Baxter delighted with victory over Bears

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Exeter Chiefs Director of Rugby Rob Baxter addresses the media following his side's 20-12 victory over league leaders Bristol Bears in the Gallagher Premiership. Picture: Getty Images

By Mark Stevens

Exeter Director of Rugby Rob Baxter hailed "a fantastic performance" by British and Irish Lions hopeful Sam Simmonds in Chiefs' 20-12 victory over Gallagher Premiership leaders Bristol Bears at Ashton Gate.

The all-action No.8 - who tops the Premiership’s try-scoring charts this season - made a towering case for Lions selection in front of Warren Gatland.

His on-field display, coupled with numerous other match-winning performance, helped the visitors to close the gap on Pat Lam’s leaders to just eight points with five rounds of the regular season remaining

"It was a fantastic performance from Sam. He had an absolute stormer,” said Baxter at the final whistle.

"He looked so strong and so quick. It looks like he is going to take some handling as the weather dries up and pitches dry up. He is going to run with some abandon, I hope."

Simmonds, overlooked by England boss Eddie Jones since 2018, drove second-placed Exeter home and helped end Bristol’s eight-match unbeaten Premiership run.

He suffered an early knock to his ankle but played for an hour in his final Lions audition before boss Gatland names the squad for South Africa on May 6, and it will be difficult to leave out the 26-year-old on this latest evidence.

Baxter added: "It is exactly what you have got to do. Games are running out before (Lions) selection happens, and you have got to maximise your opportunities. I thought most of our guys who are in with a shout for the Lions did all the good that they could do tonight.

"In terms of Sam's ankle, it looks like he has just rolled it. He had a little bit of a sore ankle a couple of weeks ago, and it looks like he has re-rolled it. Hopefully, it is no more than that."

By the time Simmonds went off, hobbling slightly, he had created Exeter’s second try for wing Tom O’Flaherty and did not put a foot wrong in attack or defence.

The Chiefs also claimed a Sam Skinner touchdown and Jacques Vermeulen try with captain Joe Simmonds kicking a conversion and penalty.

Chiefs winger Tom O'Flaherty touches down for his first half try

Sam Simmonds’ fellow England internationals Jack Nowell, Henry Slade and Luke Cowan-Dickie were not far behind him for work-rate as the Chiefs inflicted just a third league defeat of the season on the Bears.

"It was a good night for us," Baxter said. "It was all about the league points. Bragging rights aren't that important, it's about league points. We had to come and fight here because we don't want to give up second spot easily.

"The only thing I am looking for at the moment is seeing a team that wants to fight for its title, and if I see that then I will be pleased."

The home side conjured a fine Andy Uren try, but they had to wait until the 78th minute before breaching Exeter’s defence again when wing Luke Morahan crossed and Ioan Lloyd converted.

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