Tom O'Flaherty scores Exeter's second try at Bristol
Exeter winger Tom O’Flaherty scored his seventh try in his past seven games
Bristol (5) 12
Tries: Uren, Morahan Con: Lloyd
Exeter (15) 20
Tries: S Skinner, O’Flaherty, Vermeulen Con: J Simmonds Pen: J Simmonds

Defending champions Exeter Chiefs demonstrated their title credentials by beating Premiership leaders Bristol and ending their six-match winning run.

Bears led early on through a fine try from Andy Uren before Sam Skinner and Tom O’Flaherty replied for Chiefs.

Jacques Vermeulen stretched their 15-5 half-time lead just before the hour as Bears spurned good field position.

Luke Morahan went over for Bristol’s second try late but Exeter won to close the gap to the leaders to eight points.

Rob Baxter’s side have lost just one of their past six league matches and the win was also a psychological blow in the Devonians’ favour before what could be June’s Premiership final.

British and Irish Lions coaches Warren Gatland and Neil Jenkins were among those watching from the stands as a number of players looked to press their claims for a place on the tour to South Africa.

Neil Jenkins and Warren Gatland watch Bristol v Exeter
Neil Jenkins and Warren Gatland got a glimpse of some potential British & Irish Lions contenders

Exeter number eight Sam Simmonds was among those to catch the eye but it was the Bears who struck first.

A fine flowing move, which began from their own 22 through Charles Piutau, also involved Niyi Adeolokun and Piers O’Conor before Uren shook off O’Flaherty’s tackle from 25 metres out to sprint to the line.

Flanker Skinner drew Chiefs level with a trademark pick-and-go finish after 15 phases of possession and they led as Simmonds’ burst through the middle set O’Flaherty free for his seventh try in the past seven games.

The visitors were able to increase that lead midway through the second half when back row Vermeulen powered over after Bears spurned decent field position at their set-piece on numerous occasions.

Winger Morahan did go over for a second try after Piutau found him with a neat pass but even that was not enough to claim a losing bonus point.

Bristol Bears captain Steven Luatua told BBC Radio Bristol:

“It was a very bruising encounter and Exeter won more of those moments in the physicality and it just swung the momentum of the game.

“We had our moments, making some incisions but then we lost the breakdown or our pass inaccuracy let us down, but Exeter played really well today.

“We back ourselves to run it and score from anywhere, but sometimes we just need to take our medicine and play it in the right areas of the field.

“That’s something we as leaders need to do is make better decisions out there and not put the pressure on the backs to make those calls.”

Exeter Chiefs director of rugby Rob Baxter told BBC Radio Devon:

“The lads showed the qualities I’ve been desperate for them to show.

“I’ve been driving them crazy for the past few weeks saying I want to see a team that wants to fight for its Premiership title and I thought we did that in spades.

“We had a few concerted periods of attack and some guys created some outstanding moments of play to score our tries.

“That will stand us in good stead in any game. I thought we just tied our whole game together beautifully.”

Bristol: Piutau; Adeolokun, O’Conor, Bedlow, Morahan; Malins, Uren; Y Thomas, Byrne, Sinckler, Attwood, Vui, Luatua (capt), D Thomas, Heenan.

Replacements: Capon, Woolmore, Afoa, Joyce, Harding, Kessell, Lloyd, Leiua.

Exeter: Hogg; Nowell, Slade, Devoto, O’Flaherty; J Simmonds (capt), Maunder, Moon, Cowan-Dickie, Francis, Gray, Hill, S Skinner, Vermeulen, S Simmonds.

Replacements: Yeandle, Hepburn, Williams, Lonsdale, Capstick, Townsend, H Skinner, Whitten.

Referee: Wayne Barnes (RFU).

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