Reigning champions Exeter moved to within one point of leaders Bristol at the top of the Gallagher Premiership table with a comfortable 26-3 victory over London Irish at a freezing Sandy Park. Injury-ravaged Irish battled throughout to frustrate their opponents and it was not until after their replacement hooker Motu Matu’u was dismissed that Chiefs were able to secure their bonus point.

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Sam Simmonds scored two of Exeter’s tries to take his tally to eleven for the season. Alex Cuthbert and Dave Ewers scored the others, with Joe Simmonds converting two and Harvey Skinner one. A penalty from Paddy Jackson was London Irish’s sole response.

It took Exeter only three minutes to take the lead, with Sam Simmonds forcing his way over from close range after surges from Alec Hepburn and Ewers had put the visitors’ defence on the back foot. Exeter soon had a second try when a strong run from Cuthbert secured Chiefs a platform in the Irish 22 before Ewers finished off a lineout drive with the opposition having little idea as to how to prevent it.

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Irish suffered a further setback when centre Curtis Rona departed with an injury as the tempo of the game was disrupted by frequent delays for treatment for his side’s players. Lock Rob Simmons was the visitors’ second injury casualty as he left the field for a head assessment, swiftly followed by full-back James Stokes in similar circumstances.

After 29 minutes, Jackson put Irish onto the scoreboard with a straightforward penalty before Australia scrum-half Nick Phipps came on to play on the wing as his side had elected to put only two backs on the bench. With wind advantage in their favour, Exeter must have been frustrated at the stop-start nature of proceedings as Irish kept their line intact for the last 25 minutes of the first half to trail only 14-3 at the interval.

In the last move of the first half, Joe Simmonds was left dazed after attempting to tackle powerful Irish number eight Albert Tuisue and the outside half did not return after the interval. Within three minutes of the restart, Exeter collected their third try when Cuthbert brushed aside some weak tackling to run 35 metres and score.

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The Welsh wing then gave way to Ian Whitten, who was himself replaced after a head-high tackle from Matu’u saw him dismissed. The Chiefs immediately capitalised with Sam Simmonds crashing over for his second score.

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