Exeter Chiefs toasted their first game of the New Year with victory, but this was hardly vintage stuff from Rob Baxter’s side in a contest that lacked any real fizz.
Devon’s finest extended their lead at the top of this season’s Gallagher Premiership by seeing off local rivals Bristol Bears in a contest that is unlikely to live long in the memory bank of the capacity crowd that packed into Sandy Park.
The Chiefs bounced back from their loss at Northampton Saints last time out to edge out their nearest and dearest for a second time this season.
Santiago Cordero’s first half touchdown, plus a first-ever Premiership try for Sean Lonsdale, were the high points in a dogged, yet often error-ridden display from the league leaders, who will now switch their attentions from domestic matters to that of two crunch encounters in the Heineken Champions Cup.
Baxter knows his side will need to play much better than they did in their derby tussle, but this ugly win – whilst those around them at the summit all lost – mean they will head into European battle as English rugby’s leading light after 12 rounds of battle.
The Bears – who have still to beat the Chiefs in any shape or form going back beyond 2010 – countered with three penalties from Irish international Ian Madigan, but that was their only real reward in a contest in which defences often ruled the roost.
Ahead of kick-off, Baxter recalled Luke Cowan-Dickie, Dave Dennis and Jonny Hill to the home pack, while behind there were starts for Henry Slade in the centre and Phil Dollman at full-back.
Meanwhile, the Bears – fresh from seeing off Newcastle Falcons last time out – made six changes in personnel for their short trip down the M5. Hooker Tom Lindsay made his first Premiership start for the club, alongside props Jake Woolmore and Lewis Thiede.
Former Chief Ed Holmes formed a new second row pairing alongside Joy Joyce, while Jack Lam was brought into the Bristol back-row with Steven Luatua ruled out with a dead leg. Behind, the back division remained unchanged, that was until just before kick-off when star full-back Charles Piutau was ruled out with a hamstring injury, thrusting Piers O’Conor into the starting XV from the bench.
The late change did little to hinder the visitors, who started the contest brightly. Early pressure saw they throw a series of attacking phases at the Chiefs, but the home defence held firm under the pressure.
Full time Exeter Chiefs 14 Bristol Bears 9
For the full match report, go to: https://www.exeterchiefs.co.uk/news/chiefs-14-bristol-9