Lara Hopkins was at Sandy Park to witness a convincing win for the Chiefs:
With a place in the knock out stages secured last week in Ireland, the final pool game against Bayonne gave Exeter Chiefs the chance to show their intent in the European Challenge Cup and claim a home quarter final. This they did, scoring five tries after the break, six in total, after battering their opponents to win 45-3.
Bayonne struggled with the strength of their English opponents throughout, with a lone penalty in the second half, from Argentine full-back Martin Bustos Moyano, the only reward for their efforts in the trip across the Channel.
The French side suffered from a torrid start when losing a line out in their own 22 after just four minutes. With the ball stolen by the Chiefs forward pack and then, playing advantage, worked out to Jack Nowell sitting on the wing, the England international broke through multiple tackles to cross the try line.
Unfortunately Henry Slade, who’s expected to line up at 10 for the Saxons next weekend, missed the conversion so the score stayed at 5-0.
Exeter forwards continued to dominate, winning another penalty at the scrum which Slade once again kicked wide. However, he soon redeemed himself when converting a penalty after 15 minutes before doubling his score sheet with another after a prolonged period of pressure from the home side saw Bayonne once again fall foul of the referee.
The Chiefs continued to attack and many chances came their through big carries from Sam Hill, Kai Horstmann and Saxons Dave Ewers and Luke Cowan-Dickie, but a mix of sloppy handling and determined defence prevented the Chiefs from increasing their 11-0 lead in the first half.
The visitor’s first venture into the Devon 22 arrived during the fortieth minute. However, this was only a very brief visit as gritty defence work from Damien Welch saw him pilfer the ball in the tackle for Dave Lewis to release Matt Jess and, ultimately, the half time whistle to blow.
Exeter began the second half with Slade slotting a penalty from just inside the Bayonne half. It looked as if a second try would be added to the tally when Thomas Waldrom dragged in defenders, allowing Horstmann to charge through the French defence. However, he was too quick for his teammates so lacked support, with Bayonne winning a penalty from the resulting ruck.
Despite missing touch with the penalty Bayonne soon had their first and only scoring opportunity of the match, with Bustos Moyano calmly putting away his chance to make the score 14-3 after forty six minutes.
From this point on the visitors never had a chance. As the game opened up Bayonne quickly looked exhausted and the Chiefs seized the opportunity to continuously cross the whitewash and achieve the try bonus point to secure guarantee a home quarter final.
The first try of the second half arrived almost immediately after the restart with Cowan-Dickie and Nowell teaming up to send Jess over in the corner.
With two tries under their belts Chiefs now threw the proverbial kitchen sink at Bayonne in the pursuit of the bonus point. Waldrom headed the next attack, falling just short of the line, before forward pressure forced Ewers over the line. Points machine Gareth Steenson, on at 10 with Slade replacing Hill at 12, duly slotted the conversion to take the scoreline to 26-3.
With the fourth try within touching distance Captain Dean Mumm galloped into the open and came within inches of scoring. The Bayonne side were clearly frustrated by the dominance of the hosts and this was made clear when replacement Simon Labouyrie blatantly knocked on to deny the Chiefs.
Exeter made the most of this advantage. After dictating the scrum and winning the penalty the forwards made the most of the subsequent line out on the five metre line. A powerful maul from the throw saw replacement prop Carl Rimmer touch down for the vital fourth try.
However, Chiefs wanted more. To secure the second seed spot going into the knock stages they needed to score another eleven unanswered points. Roared on by the brilliant Sandy Park crowd they duly did this, with Horstmann picking the pass on the 22 and, wih the help of his fellow forwards, crossed the line. With marksmen Steenson converting only another five points were needed with ten minutes remaining.
Fittingly it was Captain Mumm who, leading by example, scored the sixth from another line out maul. This was another well-deserved try for the pack to take the game to 45-3.
With the seconds ticking down Bayonne attempted a last gasp attack but, with the stands already celebrating the victory, this flicker was quickly doused by the Chiefs defence.
These two weekends of European wins will, with any luck, put the Exeter Chiefs in the winning mind set needed for the looming Premiership games.
Chiefs will be hoping their table topping exploits continue next week against the Newport Dragons in the LV Cup.bookmark me