Second-half Jonny Gray hat-trick helps Exeter to a convincing win
Scotland lock Jonny Gray scored a hat-trick of close-range tries as Exeter got their Heineken Champions Cup campaign off to a winning start with a 42-6 victory over Montpellier at Sandy Park. It was not a vintage performance from the 2020 champions, who started slowly against durable but limited opponents but eventually they raised their game with an excellent second-half performance to run out convincing winners. Stuart Hogg, Don Armand and Sam Simmonds also scored tries for Exeter with Joe Simmonds converting all six. Louis Foursans scored Montpellier’s points with two early penalties.
The visitors, presently lying third in the French Top 14, fielded a relatively strong side but they did not include their South African World Cup-winning half-backs Handre Pollard and Cobus Reinach in their 23. France lock Paul Willemse was not involved either but former Bath number eight Zach Mercer was named on the bench.
Two penalties from Foursans gave the away side an early lead as Exeter began with a number of unforced errors. A kick from Henry Slade was charged down before the England centre lost his side valuable ground by firing his next kick straight into touch. Not helped by their ill-discipline, Chiefs struggled to get out of their half in the first 20 minutes and at the end of an uneventful first quarter, the French side deservedly held a 6-0 lead.
Exeter rose from their slumbers when a strong run from Hogg gained his side a platform in the opposition 22. The home pack then proceeded to batter the Montpellier line with a series of drives before the ball was moved wide with a long pass from Joe Simmonds allowing Hogg to dummy his way over.
Montpellier’s former Bath prop Henry Thomas lost his side some impetus by conceding a scrum penalty before arguing the decision with Welsh referee Craig Evans, who marched Thomas back a further 10 metres for dissent. Exeter could not capitalise as they lost two lineouts in quick succession but they still held a 7-6 half-time advantage.
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Chiefs made a change at the interval replacing prop Josh Iosefa-Scott, who had struggled in the scrum contest, with Sam Nixon. Less than a minute after the restart, the hosts scored their second try. Montpellier bungled the kick-off for Chiefs to go through the phases before Gray just had enough momentum to force his way over. Simmonds converted before Foursans was short with a penalty attempt after the hosts had conceded another scrum penalty. A couple of poor clearances from the French heaped pressure on them and once again Gray was on hand to crash over with a third conversion from Simmonds giving Chiefs a 21-6 lead at the end of a third quarter.
That left Montpellier with a mountain to climb and soon the game was up for them when Gray scored his third try with Montpellier wing Josua Vici yellow-carded before Exeter centre Ian Whitten had a try ruled out because of an earlier knock-on. It mattered little as Montpellier’s resistance had long gone with Sam Simmonds and Armand both crossing to emphasize their side’s total domination of the second half.
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