Premiership: Bristol Bears win high-scoring clash with Exeter Chiefs, Sale Sharks edge past Wasps
Bristol Bears picked up a much-needed 40-33 victory over Exeter Chiefs in their final home fixture of the Premiership season on Friday.
Tries from Callum Sheedy, Charles Piutau (2), Alapati Leiua, Toby Fricker and Luke Morahan helped the Bears to a bonus-point success at Ashton Gate.
Santiago Grondona, Josh Hodge, James Kenny, Olly Woodburn and Dave Ewers crossed for Exeter, with this defeat denting their play-off aspirations.
The result leaves Exeter four points behind fourth-placed Northampton Saints, as their knockout hopes hang by a thread in what’s been a tough season.
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The Chiefs fought their way back from 14 points adrift in an 11-try thriller, but wing Fricker’s interception try and a later Morahan score saw Bristol home.
Piutau and Morahan returned for Bristol’s final home game of the season, with Leiua, John Afoa and Dave Attwood making their last Ashton Gate appearances before moving to new clubs next term.
Exeter boss Rob Baxter made four changes to the team beaten by Saracens last time out, including starts for Hodge, Ewers and prop Harry Williams.
The Chiefs dominated early territory, and that looked to have reaped its reward after 11 minutes when Stuart Hogg touched down wide out, but the try was disallowed following a knock-on in build-up play.
Bristol spent almost the entire opening quarter defending, but a combination of aggressive tackling and Exeter errors meant that it remained scoreless.
The home side then struck from their first attack after Exeter skipper Jack Yeandle infringed, with Bristol’s England scrum-half Harry Randall taking a quick penalty and freeing Sheedy on a clear run to the line.
Sheedy added the conversion in an impressive response to being left out of the Wales squad earlier this week for a three-Test South Africa tour in July.
It was a score completely against the run of play, but Exeter responded within four minutes after sustained close-range pressure resulted in Grondona crashing over and Simmonds converting.
Back came Bristol, though, and they regained the lead seven minutes before half-time when Piutau weaved his way over to reward impressive work by a fired-up home pack.
Sheedy’s conversion restored a seven-point lead for Bristol, yet whereas defences had dominated the early action, space was now being created, and slick passing saw Exeter draw level again just before half-time as Hodge finished off a smart move and Simmonds converted.
Hodge departed injured early in the second period, before the visitors produced another smart attacking move that saw centre Ian Whitten breach Bristol’s defence, only for it to be ruled out after an earlier late tackle.
And Bristol made the most of it as Piutau breezed across for his second try after 47 minutes, with Sheedy’s conversion again leaving Exeter seven points adrift.
Sheedy carved open Exeter’s defence just five minutes later, before delivering a superb pass to Leiua, who applied a stunning finish, and Sheedy’s conversion left Chiefs floundering.
But Bristol then had substitute Jack Bates sin-binned for a dangerous tackle on Exeter number eight Jacques Vermeulen, and they immediately claimed a third try through Kenny that Simmonds converted.
The home side could not cope with 14 players and Exeter struck again on the hour mark through Woodburn, before Simmonds added the extras to make it 28-28.
Exeter, though, followed good with bad when England centre Henry Slade’s pass was intercepted by Fricker just inside his own half and he sprinted clear to score – with Lloyd converting – before Morahan sealed a memorable win six minutes from time.
Sale leapfrog Exeter after win at Wasps
In the other Premiership fixture played out on Friday, Sale Sharks claimed a hard-fought 16-7 victory over Wasps at the Coventry Building Society Arena.
The win booked Sale’s place in next season’s Champions Cup and also kept alive their slim hopes of a play-off spot but a number of other sides’ results have to go their way if they are to climb to the necessary fourth place.
Wasps were deserved losers and are now in danger of missing out on a Champions Cup berth with no points from this clash and a trip to league leaders Leicester in their final fixture next week.
For Sale, Robert du Preez kicked three penalties and converted a try from Akker van der Merwe, while Wasps crossed over through Gabriel Oghre as Jimmy Gopperth added the extras.
Despite both sides showing a huge amount of industry, the first quarter was scoreless with try-scoring opportunities at a premium as the game was played out between the opposing 22s.
Wasps suffered a setback when scrum-half Dan Robson was shown a yellow card for a deliberate knockdown but Sale could not capitalise as flanker Tom Curry knocked on with the try-line beckoning.
A couple of penalties allowed the home side to relieve the pressure before they picked up the first score when Oghre finished off a driving line-out with Sale captain Jono Ross sin-binned for attempting to drag it down.
Robson returned from the sin-bin in time to see his opponents collect their first points when Du Preez kicked a 35-metre penalty.
Gopperth could have nullified this but he was off-target with a long-distance penalty before Ross Returned, to be greeted by a second success from Du Preez to leave the visitors trailing 7-6 at the end of a featureless first half.
Sale centre Manu Tuilagi was substituted at half-time with Rohan Janse van Rensburg introduced and – on the resumption – the home side received a major blow.
From the kick-off, competition for possession left lock Elliott Stooke prone on the floor with a serious leg injury being carried off on a stretcher and replaced by James Gaskell.
Wasps’ woes continued when number eight Alfie Barbeary was shown a yellow card for a deliberate knock-on, with the visitors immediately taking advantage when Van der Merwe crashed over from close range.
Barbeary returned in the hope that he may shore up the Wasps pack, but his side were still only six points adrift going into the final quarter.
That became nine when Wasps infringed again at a scrum for Du Preez to kick his third penalty before the hosts built up their best period of pressure.
However, the Sale defence held firm before Gopperth missed a long-range penalty which would given his side a valuable bonus point.
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