Premiership: Exeter Chiefs 19-13 Bristol Bears – Late Stuart Hogg try seals win

Jonny Hill scores a try
Jonny Hill scored on his first Exeter appearance since it was announced he would leave for Sale in the summer
Exeter (12) 19
Tries: O’Flaherty, Hill, Hogg Cons: J Simmonds 2
Bristol (3) 13
Try: Purdy Con: Sheedy Pens: Sheedy 2

A record Sandy Park crowd of 14,100 saw Exeter Chiefs edge West Country rivals Bristol Bears in the Premiership.

Tom O’Flaherty’s excellent early try put Exeter ahead and Jonny Hill scored from close range before the break as the Chiefs had three-quarters of first-half possession and territory.

Henry Purdy’s interception try set up a tense final 10 minutes after a scrappy second half littered with errors.

Stuart Hogg’s try with five minutes to go sealed the win after huge pressure.

Callum Sheedy’s late penalty earned a losing bonus point for Bristol as Exeter’s victory – their first over the Bears at home in three years – lifted them up to fifth in the Premiership while Bristol remain in 12th place.

Exeter's new East Stand
Exeter’s new East Stand was open for the first time and will eventually bring Sandy Park’s capacity up to 15,600

Exeter’s first try of 2022 may prove to be one of their best all year. Fine passes from Jack Maunder and Joe Simmonds found Jack Nowell, whose perfectly weighted grubber kick was picked up by Hogg and the Scotland skipper fed winger O’Flaherty who dived over in the left corner.

Sheedy’s 19th-minute penalty got the Bears on the board, but the visitors were lucky not to be a second try behind soon after when Hogg – who was the outstanding player all evening – knocked-on five metres out after chipping the ball over the defence.

Bristol suffered a blow when star full-back Charles Piutau limped off and it got worse when Hill crashed over following 12 phases as the Chiefs controlled the first half.

The visitors started the second half brightly as Piutau’s replacement Purdy looked dangerous, but they failed to turn a good period of pressure on the Exeter line into points inside the first 10 minutes.

Both sides began to take risks as the half wore on, leading to an entertaining, if scrappy spectacle as players struggled to keep hold of the ball.

It was a mistake that saw the Bears get back into it as Joe Simmonds’ pass to Dave Ewers was picked off by Purdy who went in under the posts from halfway.

But the Chiefs responded within five minutes as phase after phase on the Bristol line ended when Hogg – who this week reaffirmed his commitment to the club after being linked with a move away – went in from close range after a looping Simmonds pass.

Exeter head coach Ali Hepher told BBC Radio Devon:

“I’m pleased with the way we attacked in the first half, we were aggressive with the ball in hand, carried really well and created a lot of opportunities.

“We didn’t quite take as many as we wanted, but that’s what we want to do, start to wear sides down, create those opportunities and finish them off, and if we could have finished one off at the end of the first half or early part of the second half, we might have got a bit more relaxed about it.

“What we did do was we got a little bit edgy and a bit worried because we probably missed a few opportunities and didn’t quite see it off.

“But good character though to come back, when we gave away an intercept, we got straight back on the attack, we got aggressive, got to the line and got the important score to win the game.”

Bristol director of rugby Pat Lam told BBC Radio Bristol:

“The boys worked hard in that game in the sense of coming back because the first half, we only had about 30% possession and territory.

“We couldn’t fire a shot and that was because of the penalties we were giving away, silly things allowing them out their half.

“But massive character from the boys, and at 12-10 we genuinely had an opportunity, but we gave a silly penalty away and allowed then to finish their game.

“It was a good effort, but frustrating.”

Exeter: Hogg; Nowell, Slade, Devoto, O’Flaherty; J Simmonds, Maunder; Hepburn, Cowan-Dickie (capt), Nixon, S Skinner, Hill, Ewers, Kirsten, S Simmonds.

Replacements: Yeandle, Moon, Iosefa-Scott, Lonsdale, Armand, Maunder, H Skinner, Whitten.

Bristol: Piutau; Morahan, Radradra, Bedlow, Lloyd; Sheedy, Randall; Y Thomas, Thacker, Sinckler, Joyce (capt), Vui, Harding, D Thomas, Hughes.

Replacements: Capon, Woolmore, Afoa, Hawkins, Eadie, Uren, O’Conor, Purdy.

Referee: Luke Pearce (RFU).

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