Rob Baxter's frank admission as Exeter miss play-offs for first time in 7 years
The Chiefs, six times Premiership finalists, are unlikely to make the top four for the first time since 2015.
Two losing bonus points means that Exeter still have the tiniest mathematical chance of progressing, but they are four points behind fourth-placed Northampton with just one game left, and Saints or Gloucester can end Exeter’s chances in their games on Saturday.
Baxter said: “We are done on the play-offs, aren’t we? Two points tonight – I think we are done. Mathematically, maybe not, I am not sure.
“It is disappointing. I think today has kind of highlighted that we have got to move on.
“I’ve said to the lads ‘get your heads up, but at the same time open your eyes and believe at some stage that we have to move on’, which means we have to move forward as players.
“I think we have become a little bit stubborn as a group of players as to where we are moving on and what we want to do and how we want to go and achieve things, and actually they need to stop and open their eyes and move forward.
“We’ve got to be better.
“We can’t just stand here and go ‘we can just be the same people and next season we will just win’. It won’t work like that. We have got to improve as individuals and as a team.
“There is a lot of work to be done and it kind of starts now.
“What I really want to see is a team that is enjoying itself again and the truth is, you only enjoy yourself when you are playing well and performing to near your maximum capabilities and we haven’t done that at all this season.
“It has been a tough season for all kind of reasons, but I don’t want to keep making excuses.
“When you concede 40 points, you’re not going to win many games of Premiership rugby doing that. I can’t say much else.”
Exeter fought their way back from 14 points adrift in an 11-try thriller, but wing Toby Fricker’s interception try and a later Luke Morahan score saw Bristol home.
Fricker and Morahan apart, full-back Charles Piutau crossed twice for Bristol, with fly-half Callum Sheedy and centre Alapati Leiua also touching down, while Sheedy kicked four conversions and Ioan Lloyd one.
Exeter went blow for blow through touchdowns for Santiago Grondona, Josh Hodge, James Kenny, Olly Woodburn and Dave Ewers – while Joe Simmonds booted four conversions – but Bristol prevailed with a powerful finish.
For 10th-placed Bristol, it was only their eighth win of a poor Premiership campaign.
Bristol rugby director Pat Lam said: “Tonight, we talked about enjoying this game and working hard and playing with no fear.
“If people look closely at what we have done, we have grown the framework of our game a lot. What we are lacking is just the technical detail across the board.
“We have got to get better and get our fundamentals right. That is an area we are going to be driving very hard in pre-season.”
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