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Luke Cowan-Dickie hat-trick inspires Exeter to thumping win over Bulls

By PA
Luke Cowan-Dickie of Exeter celebrates scoring a try during the Heineken Champions Cup Pool A match between Exeter Chiefs and Vodacom Bulls at Sandy Park on December 17, 2022 in Exeter, England. (Photo by Ben Hoskins/Getty Images)

Exeter took a huge step towards the Heineken Champions Cup knockout phase as they blitzed South African challengers the Bulls 44-14 at Sandy Park.

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It was the Chiefs’ second successive bonus-point victory in this season’s tournament, underpinned by captain Luke Cowan-Dickie’s try hat-trick, plus touchdowns for flanker Dave Ewers, who was also yellow carded late in the game, centre Henry Slade and substitute Solomone Kata.

The Bulls claimed a five-point maximum in defeating Lyon last weekend, but they had no answer to Exeter’s forward power and set-piece excellence.

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The Chiefs, European champions in 2020, were out of sight by the break as fly-half Joe Simmonds added four conversions and two penalties.

And the Bulls, despite an early try by wing Stravino Jacobs and centre Chris Smith’s second-half effort, both converted by fly-half Morne Steyn, could find no way back into a one-sided Pool A encounter.

Exeter showed one change from the side that claimed a bonus-point victory over Castres last weekend, with Cowan-Dickie returning after injury, replacing Jack Yeandle.

Simmonds kicked Exeter into a fourth-minute lead after the Chiefs gained a scrum penalty inside Bulls’ 22, but the visitors responded impressively.

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Full-back Wandisile Simelane made an initial break before patient build-up play ended with Jacobs surging through a sizeable midfield gap to claim a try that Steyn converted.

It was a bright, entertaining start to the game and Exeter went back in front through an 11th-minute Ewers try from close range, which Simmonds converted.

And the Chiefs continued to enjoy momentum, fashioning one of their trademark tries from a five-metre lineout as Cowan-Dickie touched down, opening up a 15-7 lead.

The Bulls attempted to give Exeter a taste of their own medicine, twice driving lineouts within touching distance of their line, but Exeter held them up on both occasions.

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Exeter then showed their opponents exactly how it should be done, posting a third try nine minutes before half-time, with Cowan-Dickie again the beneficiary of relentless power.

Simmonds’ conversion left the Bulls in a state of escalating strife, 15 points adrift as Exeter sensed a try bonus-point as the interval approached.

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And it duly arrived following superb link work between Sam Simmonds and his back-row colleague Ewers, which prop Scott Sio took on before Slade applied an impressive finish.

Simmonds’ third successful conversion left the Bulls in damage-limitation mode, before he kicked a penalty to make it 32-7 at the break.

Cowan-Dickie completed his treble just five minutes into the second period, with Simmonds converting, and that was the hooker’s thoroughly-satisfying afternoon’s work completed as he made way for Jack Yeandle.

The Bulls were a shadow of the side that had won seven from nine United Rugby Championship games this season and Exeter required no second invitation to capitalise on such lethargy.

Exeter were at a different level, continuing from where they left off against Castres in France last weekend and moving to within touching distance of the Champions Cup last 16.

Kata added Exeter’s sixth try following Smith’s consolation for the Bulls that Steyn converted, but the game lost its shape as both head coaches inevitably made a raft of substitutions.

Although the Bulls had arguably their best spell of the game during the final quarter, it was an away day to forget for Jake White’s team.

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Tim 13 hours ago
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