Champions Cup: Exeter Chiefs power past the Bulls while Edinburgh hold off Castres

Planet Rugby
Luke Cowan-Dickie Exeter Chiefs Premiership 2021 - PA.jpg

Exeter Chiefs continued with their excellent form in this season’s Champions Cup when they cruised to a comfortable 44-14 victory over the Bulls at Sandy Park on Saturday.

The home side delivered an excellent all-round performance as they outscored the Bulls by six tries to two, with captain Luke Cowan-Dickie leading the way with a deserved hat-trick while their other five-pointers were scored by Dave Ewers, who also received a yellow card late in the game, Henry Slade and Solomone Kata.

Their other points came via the boot of Joe Simmonds, who succeeded with four conversions and two penalties. For the Bulls, Stravino Jacobs and Chris Smith crossed the whitewash, with Morne Steyn adding two conversions.

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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.

The Chiefs, European champions in 2020, were out of sight by the break as they held a 32-7 lead with their bonus point already secured by that stage of the match.

And the Bulls, despite an early try by wing Jacobs and centre Smith’s second-half effort, 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.

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.

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.

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. 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.

Edinburgh prove too strong for Castres

In the other early game, Edinburgh added a five-point Champions Cup triumph to the losing bonus they earned at Saracens last Sunday, but they had to fight all the way before finally sealing a 31-20 win over Castres.

The Top 14 outfit had supposedly selected a second string for the trip to the DAM Health Stadium, but they came close to securing a try bonus themselves before eventually falling just short in the Pool A clash.

Edinburgh had to make a late change to their line-up when Duhan van der Merwe failed a fitness test on a minor ankle injury – however, the winger is expected to be fit for Friday’s match at Glasgow.

A high-tempo game remained scoreless until midway through the first half, when Edinburgh finally made their pressure tell, Bill Mata forcing his way over, with Emiliano Boffelli converting.

Castres hit back soon after. A scrum penalty went to touch, and when Pierre Colonna’s throw-in bounced off an arm and back into his path, he raced for the line then flopped over for an unconverted try.

The French side then took the lead after half an hour with another five-point score when scrum-half Julien Blanc finished on the right.

Edinburgh regained the lead through a penalty try, awarded after Quentin Walcker came in from the side and pulled the maul down. The loosehead prop was sin-binned for the offence, but the 14 men had the last word in the first half when Julien Dumora found the target from a penalty to take the score to 14-13.

Edinburgh increased their lead early in the second half when Charlie Savala finished off from a pass by James Lang. The try, made possible by an excellent run from Luke Crosbie deep into the 22, was converted by Boffelli from in front of the posts.

The hosts were soon under renewed pressure, but they got the bonus try when a James Lang kick ahead was fumbled by Martin Laveau then touched down by Ben Vellacott. Boffelli converted.

Castres hit back immediately, with Adrien Seguret dashing through a gap in the defence after Edinburgh failed to deal with the restart.

Ben Botica converted, but the home side weathered the storm, and a Boffelli penalty minutes from time completed the scoring.

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