Following last weekend’s disappointment away to the Ospreys in the opening round of Champions Cup action, the Exeter Chiefs welcomed Bordeaux Bégles to Sandy Park keen to get their campaign up and running.
Indeed it was the Chiefs who started the brighter of the two teams. England back row Tom Johnson was carrying hard into the French side’s defence and Jack Nowell was looking his usual menacing self. In the seventh minute, fly half Henry Slade knocked over an easy three points after the Exeter pack had asserted their dominance early with a powerful scrummage.
From the resultant kick off, the Chiefs highlighted just how deadly they can be in open play. Nowell gathered the kick off and attacked from deep, beating two defenders before offloading to the rampant Johnson who charged over the half way line. A phase later and the ball was recycled to new signing Olly Woodburn who raced away into the corner. Slade’s attempted conversion struck the post from the touchline but the Chiefs were well in the ascendancy at 8-0 with 11 minutes played.
However, Bordeaux responded in admirable fashion. With French number eight Loann Goujon leading the charge in typical fashion, the ball was recycled wide to fullback Nans Ducuing to score following a fantastic offload from Julien Rey. Enigmatic fly half Lionel Beauxis converted admirably from the touchline and the visitors were back into the contest.
After a great take from their own restart, the Chiefs almost went over in the corner but impressive centre Sam Hill was bundled into touch. That wouldn’t be the end of the Chiefs’ pressure however. After stealing the lineout, a maul was constructed and Scottish prop Moray Low darted over as the Bordeaux defence went missing momentarily. After a Slade penalty soon after, the Chiefs were ahead 18-7 with 22 minutes played.
Beauxis rather inexplicably failed to dissect the uprights with a simple penalty opportunity and this would prove costly as the Chiefs would stand resolute for the next ten minutes of Bégles pressure. Johnson, Julian Salvi and Slade all won turnovers at the breakdown as the Chiefs showed their dogged determination.
With the half way mark approaching, the hosts enjoyed a spell of pressure on the Bordeaux tryline but were unable to cross the whitewash, instead settling for a simple three points. 21-7 at half time.
Inside centre Hill provided early momentum for the hosts, crashing through into the visitors 22 with a typically barnstorming run. Slade’s perfectly executed miss pass enabled Ian Whitten to jog over for the third try as Bordeaux looked to be on the ropes.
The visitors were not, however. Bordeaux’s Rey was allowed an easy try following lazy defence from Exeter’s backs as the inside centre broke through Whitten and Nowell to crash over. Beauxis missed the conversion but the visitors were back pounding away at the Exeter 22 soon after. Much to the disgust of coaches Joe Worsley and Raphael Ibanez, Exeter won the ball back despite apparent hands in the ruck to relieve pressure.
The killer blow from the Chiefs would come soon after. Woodburn won the turnover on the Exeter 22, the ball was flung to Slade who looked up, beat a defender, and glided into the Bordeaux half. His offload was perfect to Julian Salvi who subsequently gave the ball to the ever-present Phil Dollman. His precision pass would allow the man of the moment Woodburn to race away for the bonus point try.
Bordeaux would respond as their impressive scrum half raced under the posts from a strong break down the right touchline. Slade calmed any nerves as he slotted a penalty to leave the scores at 34-19 entering the final moments.
Italian centre Michele Campagnaro made his first appearance at Sandy Park for the Chiefs, coming off the bench to replace Woodburn. Replacement Don Armand hoofed the ball into touch after a scrum in the closing moments as Exeter closed out an inconsistent but important victory.
Rob Baxter and Slade spoke afterwards of last week’s disappointment and that it was imperative to come away from today with a solid performance. The bonus point will especially please the Chiefs squad but there will be some concerns surrounding the soft tries that were conceded. Up next, a momentous clash at home against the in-form Harlequins in the Aviva Premiership.