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Jonny Hill to the fore as Exeter overcome poor start to reach Champions Cup quarter-finals

By PA
(Photo by PA)

Exeter overcame a shaky start to power past Lyon and set up a Heineken Champions Cup quarter-final against Leinster with a 47-25 victory at Sandy Park. By the eighth minute, Rob Baxter’s European champions had slipped 14-0 behind but through a pair of tries by England lock and man of the match Jonny Hill they clawed their way back into contention.

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Further tries by Tom O’Flaherty and Ollie Devoto helped them into a 26-20 half-time lead and then the floodgates opened as Dave Ewers, Olly Woodburn and a penalty try swept them clear. It was a far from vintage display from the error-prone double winners, who welcomed back their stars from England, Scotland and Wales after two months on Six Nations duty and looked disjointed as a result.

Leinster will see vulnerabilities ahead of next weekend’s heavyweight Sandy Park showdown, but the strongest Exeter team will have benefited from a tough examination by Lyon. A possible setback was the sight of fly-half Joe Simmonds limping off in the final quarter, while his brother Sam received treatment on an ankle issue, although his departure did not appear to be injury-related.

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Lyon were playing their first knockout game in Europe and although ultimately outclassed, the Top 14 mid-table side were rugged and dangerous – a point emphatically made when Baptiste Couilloud and Xavier Mignot plundered early tries.

A promising counter-attack was given new life when full-back Toby Arnold accelerated through Ewers’ tackle and picked out the supporting Couilloud to draw first blood in the sixth minute. Exeter’s situation deteriorated two minutes later upon losing their own lineout deep in home territory, allowing Charlie Ngatai to throw a long pass that was taken by Arnold before Mignot strolled over.

An ill-advised off-load by Ewers invited fresh pressure on to the Chiefs but on this occasion, Joe Simmonds and Henry Slade were on hand to avert the danger as Lyon threatened another score. Exeter settled and clawed their way back into contention when Hill finished a series of trademark pick and goes before O’Flaherty went close from a line-out move.

The squeeze continued as a collapsed maul resulted in Vivien Devisme being sent to the sin-bin and from the penalty Hill powered over for his second, underlining the Chiefs’ growing superiority in the tight. On the half-hour mark, they crept ahead, Woodburn racing across the field from a lineout with help from clever running lines by his centres and sending opposite wing O’Flaherty over in the corner.

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The fourth try came just before half-time when Hill declined his hat-trick by sending Devoto over under the posts despite the England lock being within striking range. Exeter had to roll up their sleeves for 10 minutes of hard graft when the second half began.

It was a rampaging run by Jonny Gray that signalled the end of an attritional period, his long stride and strength carrying him through a number of tackles to set the platform for Ewers to score. Lyon were now in full retreat, as was their scrum which was sent hurtling backwards towards their whitewash before disintegrating, coughing up a penalty try.

The final blow was delivered when Stu Townsend grubbered for Woodburn to touch down before Dylan Cretin crossed in injury time for the French visitors.

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Shaylen 1 hours ago
Jack Willis' Champions Cup masterclass proves English eligibility rules need a rethink

If France, Wales, England, Scotland and Ireland got together and all changed their eligibility laws in the same way SA has it would be absolutely bonkers. All players from all nations involved in Europe would be fair game as would their coaches. The investment in rugby would be supercharged as teams would rush to create dream teams. Transfer markets would be super charged, salary caps may change, private investment would grow as rich backers first buy clubs and then put money into their clubs in an effort to land the best players. The richest clubs and franchises would benefit most but money and players would move across borders at a steady flow. Suddenly countries like Wales and Scotland would have a much larger pool of players to select from who would be developed and improved in systems belonging to their rivals within superstar squads while their clubs receive large sums in the transfer market. The Six Nations would experience a big boost as the best players become available all the time. The Champions cup would become even more fiercely contested as the dream teams clash. Fan engagement would grow as fans would follow their favourite players creating interest in the game across the continent. Transfer markets and windows would become interesting events in themselves, speculation would drive it and rumours of big transfers and interest in players would spread. All of this is speculation and much of it would not eventuate straight away but just like in football the spread of players and talent would create these conditions over time. The transfer markets in European football is proof of this. Football had the same club vs country debate eons ago and favoured an open system. This has made it the largest game in the world with global interest and big money. Rugby needs to embrace this approach in the long run as well

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Jon 7 hours ago
Waratahs 'counter-culture' limits Wallaby options for Joe Schmidt

This is a bit dramatic for me, I think the Rebels and Force cultures would be very strong, and if a player is chosen from either, you can be confident they are in a good head space and ready. Whether they quite have the technical or tactical foundations of the other two states is where one would way their risk of selection. I see no need for Schmidt to worry about that risk in this squad. The main reason I could see a predominance of players from Brumbies and Reds, is simple cohesion. What might the coaching group make of what’s lacking in the Tahs, and to a lesser extent Rebels and Force’s, franchise? Certainly sides (players) that are running irish plays like we saw from that lovely McDermott long ball with have a head start. I hope the players can continue it at International level. Really liked what I saw of Wright (don’t know player focus and just hadn’t seen a lot of him anyway) in that game, can see him being a glue in a Wallaby side too. A with the similar worry of selecting players like Ryan, I think it unfounded to worry so much about forward balance at the moment. Including both Wright and Skelton in the same lineout is not going to lose you games gainst Wales. Nor will any unknown weakenss Wales might find in Ryan be exploited to any great extent. It is the perfect time to introduce such a young player. What other shortcuts might Schmidt want to make now, just a year out from hosting BIL? When Gamble came on the scene I thought he had a Pocock ability to break game apart along with performing the role of a openside well. I would be very keen to drop Leota/Hooper for Gamble, and in your squad make up, include Uru as a lock. Did you forget to remove Vunivalu from your team? Would you have Meafou in your squad if you could?

114 Go to comments
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