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'Hopefully he goes back in the international setup, because that's where he deserves to be'

By PA
(Photo by PA)

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Exeter assistant coach Ali Hepher hailed the Chiefs’ character after they rallied through a late Stuart Hogg try to see off Gallagher Premiership rivals Bristol 19-13 at Sandy Park.

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Substitute Henry Purdy’s interception score brought Bristol back into the contest at two points adrift with 11 minutes left, but Scotland skipper Hogg then struck to keep Exeter firmly in play-off contention.

“We had plenty of opportunities, especially at the end of the first half and start of the second, and we tightened up a little bit and made a few errors,” Hepher said.

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“But they are a tough side to break.

“It was pleasing the character we showed after we conceded the intercept try. We were strong then, and got straight back on the attack.

“We have been getting the opportunities – we haven’t necessarily been converting them. We have got to be clinical, and that’s all part of the process of building your confidence and level of performance through the season.

“We have started to put some performances together in the league – Bath, Saracens and now Bristol.”

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Hepher also praised fine performances by Hogg and England wing Jack Nowell, who both regularly tested Bristol’s defence through their strong running and powerful carrying.

“Stuart has been playing fantastically well for us all season,” Hepher added.

“We are pleased with the way he is going. There is none better with ball in hand when he is really motoring.

“It was always going to be a little bit of time with Jack, and getting a run of games and hoping he stays injury-free. He has been incredible for us, and I dare say people will be looking at him.

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“Hopefully he goes back in the international setup, because that’s where he deserves to be.”

For Bristol, it was a fourth successive Premiership defeat as Exeter prevailed in front of a record Sandy Park crowd.

Chiefs’ new East Stand development allowed an attendance of 14,100 for the West Country derby, and Exeter fashioned a workmanlike success.

First-half tries by wing Tom O’Flaherty and lock Jonny Hill, with fly-half Joe Simmonds adding one conversion, put them in control of the contest.

But a dour second period of few scoring chances burst into life during the closing minutes when Purdy claimed a breakaway try that Callum Sheedy converted, adding to his earlier penalty.

Exeter’s lead was suddenly threatened, but they dug deep and confirmed a seventh win of their Premiership campaign when Hogg scored late on, and Simmonds added the extras.

There was no way back for Bristol, and they remain in the Premiership’s bottom two having won just three of their first 11 league games, although Sheedy’s 80th-minute penalty at least gave them a losing bonus point.

Bristol rugby director Pat Lam said: “The first half, we gave away silly penalties and knock-ons. The physicality was great, but we spent too much time on defence.

“It was about hanging in there. We had them on the edges, but some of our execution wasn’t good. There was a lot of messy stuff.

“We are not far away. We have got to keep knocking the door, and eventually it will come.

“That is a big, physical Exeter team, and it shows you the boys haven’t lost confidence, but little things are hurting us. These boys won’t give up.”

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