Preview: Bristol v Exeter

Date published: September 22 2016

Bristol director of rugby Andy Robinson has made six changes to his starting XV for Friday's South-West derby with Exeter at Ashton Gate.

All the changes are in the pack with loosehead prop Kyle Traynor set to make his first Premiership start. Gaston Cortes returns to the front-row, while James Phillips and Mark Sorenson form a new-look second row partnership.

Jon Fisher recovers from a toe injury to start in the back-row and Jordan Crane also returns.

“It’s great to have Friday night rugby back at Ashton Gate and we’re buoyed by the knowledge that there will be a bumper crowd to support the team,” said Robinson.

“The key messages to the squad this week has been to stick together, keep fighting and keep working hard. We know where we need to improve and we’re looking to embrace the challenge that Exeter Chiefs will bring under the floodlights.”

Ben Mosses (knee) is sidelined for up to 12 weeks and the centre is joined by Gavin Henson (dead leg), Ben Glynn (shoulder), Marc Jones (knee), David Lemi (knee), Callum Sheedy (hamstring), Glen Townson (knee) and Ryan Bevington (head).

Max Crumpton, Jamal Ford-Robinson and Charlie Amesbury are all named among the replacements and could make their first competitive outings of the campaign if they feature.

Meanwhile, Exeter boss Rob Baxter has brought in Alec Hepburn, Mitch Lees and Dave Dennis to his pack of forwards in place of Ben Moon, Geoff Parling and the injured Don Armand, while behind Sam Hill is promoted from the bench at the expense of Ollie Devoto.

On the bench, Kai Horstmann fills the void left by Dennis, who is making his first start for the club following his summer move from the Waratahs, while Harry Williams is back-up at tighthead prop following Tomas Francis’ two-week suspension.

Baxter expects a tough challenge and insists it would be wrong to compare the Chiefs of 2010 coming into the Premiership to that of Bristol returning in 2016.

"It’s like chalk and cheese," he said.

"If you look at it, Bristol have been a Premiership side in the past and they have featured in the top league a lot longer than we have.

"They have got a foundation, a base and a history at this level. How they got back into the Premiership is a lot different to how we had to do it, so it’s wrong to compare the two of us.

"That said, your first season is always tough as we found out. However, it’s tough three seasons in and it’s just as tough seven or eight seasons in like we are now. If you look at our start, we’re one win in three, so it’s never easy.

"If you ask me about Bristol, I think they are going alright. I’m sure they felt unlucky to lose that first game against Harlequins and then like us they went to Wasps last week and came up against a team that are bang on form.

"Therefore it’s really important we focus on ourselves and what we want to achieve and not got down the line of Bristol lost last week, it’s their first season back in the Premiership, and almost don’t start to expect things that have no foundation.

"The things that have foundation is how we turn up on Friday and that’s been our big message this week. We’ve not talked about the past or where they stand, let’s make sure we focus on the things that make us good."

Form: Bristol have slipped to three straight defeats on their return to Aviva Premiership Rugby, although they did attain a losing bonus point in round 1 and have twice finished with a try tally of three. Bristol have not been victorious at Ashton Gate since last season’s RFU Championship semi-final second leg against Bedford. Exeter Chiefs opened their winning account in Aviva Premriship Rugby for 2016/17 with a home victory over Harlequins on Saturday. The Chiefs only away win from their last five trips in Premiership Rugby was 62-24 at Harlequins in round 22. The two sides have never clashed before in Premiership Rugby, and last locked horns in the final of the RFU Championship in season 2009/10 with Exeter taking both legs to earn promotion. This is the Devonians first visit to Ashton Gate.

The teams:

Bristol: 15 Jordan Williams, 14 Ryan Edwards, 13 Will Hurrell, 12 Thretton Palamo, 11 Tom Varndell, 10 Tusi Pisi, 9 Will Cliff, 8 Jordan Crane, 7 Jack Lam (c), 6 Jon Fisher, 5 Mark Sorenson, 4 James Phillips, 3 Gaston Cortes, 2 Ross McMillan, 1 Kyle Traynor 
Replacements: 16 Max Crumpton, 17 Soane Tonga’uiha, 18 Jamal Ford-Robinson, 19 Joe Joyce, 20 Mitch Eadie, 21 Martin Roberts, 22 Adrian Jarvis, 23 Charlie Amesbury

Exeter: 15 Lachie Turner, 14 Olly Woodburn, 13 Henry Slade, 12 Sam Hill, 11 Ian Whitten, 10 Gareth Steenson (c), 9 Will Chudley, 8 Thomas Waldrom, 7 Julian Salvi, 6 Dave Dennis, 5 Damian Welch, 4 Mitch Lees, 3 Greg Holmes, 2 Luke Cowan-Dickie, 1 Alec Hepburn
Replacements: 16 Jack Yeandle, 17 Ben Moon, 18 Harry Williams, 19 Geoff Parling, 20 Kai Horstmann, 21 Dave Lewis, 22 Ollie Devoto, 23 James Short

Date: Friday, September 23
Venue: Ashton Gate
Kick-off: 19:45 BST (18:45 GMT)
Referee: Tom Foley
Assistant Referees: Greg Macdonald, Paul Dix
TMO: Sean Davey