Bristol Bears 40-33 Exeter Chiefs: Chiefs' Premiership play-off hopes hit by Bears loss

By Sophie HurcomBBC Sport at Ashton Gate
Bristol's Alapati Leiua
Alapati Leiua scored in his final game at Ashton Gate to end his five-year career at Bristol on a high
Gallagher Premiership
Bristol (14) 40
Tries: Sheedy, Piutau (2), Leiua, Fricker, Morahan Cons: Sheedy 4, Lloyd
Exeter (14) 33
Tries: Grondona, Hodge, Kenny, Woodburn, Ewers Cons: Simmonds 4

Six-try Bristol Bears beat Exeter to leave the Chiefs almost certain to miss out on the Premiership play-offs for the first time since 2015.

Callum Sheedy and Charles Piutau traded first-half tries with Santiago Grondona and Josh Hodge.

A second from Piutau and Alapati Leiuia put Bristol ahead, but James Kenny and Olly Woodburn levelled the match again.

But Toby Fricker and Luke Morahan gave Bristol a decisive lead before Dave Ewers' late consolation try for Exeter.

Exeter, who have reached every final since 2016, came to Bristol knowing they needed a victory to keep alive any realistic hopes of finishing in the top four.

But they now drop down to seventh on 64 points - with Sale leapfrogging them following their win at Wasps - and are four points behind fourth-placed Northampton, who have a game in hand.

While mathematically they can still reach the play-offs, they need Sale, Gloucester and Northampton to drop points in their remaining matches, as well as claim a bonus-point win at Harlequins on the last day of the campaign.

Rob Baxter's side enjoyed the better of the territory and possession in the opening 20 minutes, but couldn't make it count as Stuart Hogg saw a try ruled out by the TMO for a knock-on in the build-up.

Against the run of play, Sheedy then put Bristol in front.

An opportunistic Harry Randall spotted a gap, took a quick tap-and-go after an Exeter penalty, and passed inside to the Welshman who went under the posts.

Substitute Grondona drew Exeter level, touching down from close range, but Piutau put Bristol back ahead, dancing through the visiting defence.

Hodge retaliated instantly, crossing in the corner, to go in all-square at the break.

Exeter saw a second try ruled out for a late tackle on Piers O'Conor in the build-up and Bristol capitalised.

Piutau dived over for a second try before a slick Sheedy back-handed pass released Leuia, one of three Bristol players making their final Ashton Gate appearances.

With Jack Bates in the sin-bin, Exeter used the man advantage to get back on equal terms as Kenny found a gap and Woodburn broke free to the corner.

But the night belonged to Bristol - who remain 10th in the table - as Fricker intercepted a Henry Slade pass to race clear from his own half, before Morahan added their sixth try to wrap up the victory.

Bristol director of rugby Pat Lam told BBC Radio Bristol:

"That was a big one for the crowd for the guys going - these guys are phenomenal. When I look at already 8,500 season tickets [sold for next year], there's a big reason why they don't have to buy them after the way our season's gone. But it just shows you the support we have.

"We talked about that, to go out and play with no fear. When you play a team that really need to win, that's what makes it special. They had every reason to play so we had to be at our best and we were tonight and it was good to see.

"We went 14-7 and we talked at half-time, it's going to go to the wire, it always does against these guys.

"I thought it was a harsh call, the yellow card on Jack Bates, and then we've had a lot of those. There's a little bit of inconsistency as you go through these things.

"They were against it all but they just stuck in there. Exactly what we said, just keep working, have no fear, keep playing and we did a great job."

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

"I'm obviously disappointed, but at the end of the day the truth is today showed us we're well off where we can be and need to be.

"We're not as good as we need to be so let's get better. If we'd have been there or thereabouts at the end of the season it might've covered up a few things we actually need to deal with.

"Lessons like today should be hard-learnt. We should've been able to score points out there but it kind of tells you where we are in that our basic execution hasn't been good enough.

"The top four has probably gone but we want to qualify for Europe so we need to make sure we're there."

Bristol: Piutau; Morahan, O'Conor, Leiua, Fricker; Sheedy, Randall; Woolmore, Thacker, Afoa, Attwood, Joyce, Vui, Jeffries, Luatua (capt).

Replacements: Byrne, Benz-Salomon, Armstrong, Harding, D Thomas, Uren, Lloyd, Bates.

Sin bin: Jack Bates (55)

Exeter: Hogg; Woodburn, Slade, Whitten, Hodge, J Simmonds, S Maunder; Hepburn, Yeandle (capt), Williams, Gray, S Skinner, Ewers, Kirsten, Vermeulen.

Replacements: Innard, Kenny, Schickerling, Jenkins, Grondona, Townsend, H Skinner, Hendrickson.

Referee: Luke Pearce

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