Braves 28 Bristol 19
Exeter Braves 28
Bristol United 19
Mark Stevens at Sandy Park
Exeter Braves made it two wins inside a week as they picked up maximum reward from their home encounter against Bristol United in this season’s Aviva A League.
Having kicked off their season with a hard-fought 20-9 win at Harlequins on Monday night, Ricky Pellow’s side then followed it up with this 28-19 success at Sandy Park.
Despite appalling conditions at times, the Braves bossed the first half and were 21-0 up inside the opening half hour.
Bristol, who lost Jordon Liney and Dan Thurston to nasty-looking injuries inside the first quarter, fell behind to an early penalty try, before Scottish international Moray Low got in on the scoring act for the hosts.
Fly-half Joe Simmonds converted that score for the Braves and was then on hand to add the extras to Tom O’Flaherty’s first score in Exeter colours as the Braves threatened to run riot against their nearest and dearest.
Bristol, however, countered just before the break when centre Sam Bedlow pounced for their opening try of the game, this after Callum Sheedy’s probing grubber kick had caused uncertainty in the Braves ranks.
Any hopes of a Bristol revival in the second half were quickly doused as the Braves added a fourth try through Will Chudley. The experienced scrum-half was fastest to react onto the loose ball when Jack Wallace’s clearance was charged down.
Although Bristol could have crumbled at this stage, instead they rallied defiantly and they were rewarded with two second half scores.
Lock Joe Quinn was the first to prosper, powering over from close range, then Maliq Holden got in on the act when he applied the finish in the right corner to a sublime cross-field kick from Sheedy.
Bristol continued to press in the closing stages, but were unable to find a fourth try of their own as the Braves defence stood firm under pressure.
“It has been a real good week for us,” said Pellow at the final whistle. “Winning away on Monday against a tough Harlequins side was a great way to start the season - and now we’ve done just as well in seeing off Bristol here today in very tough conditions.
“Full credit to the guys for fronting up in both games, it’s given us a great start to the A League and put us in a really good position to kick on. This win, plus the Chiefs beating Irish beforehand, it’s two great results for us to take into the Worcester game on Friday.
“The boys fronted up, it was a big, physical battle at times out there, but they did well and we’ve got the result we wanted.”
With a number of Braves players keen to impress watching Director of Rugby Rob Baxter, they did not disappoint and Pellow was quick to praise the efforts of a number of them.
“We saw from Monday’s performance that if you do well and perform, you can get an opportunity at the weekend,” added Pellow. “Both Mitch [Lees] and Stu [Townsend] featured on Monday for us, then today they were playing in the Premiership against London Irish. As coaches that is what we want to see from the guys. We want them to use opportunities like these games to not only put in a performance that helps the Braves do well, but at the same time really stake a claim in terms of selection for a first team place.
“Normally at this stage of the season we’ve had one win and one defeat, so to start the season with two wins like this is great news. Now we all have to reset again for next week, getting rested up and recovered because it’s a short turnaround until the Worcester game and we want as many guys as possible firing come training on Monday.”
Among those to stand for the Braves were summer signing James Freeman, Wilhelm van der Sluys and O’Flaherty, as did Chudley, whose work in the number nine jersey will not have gone unnoticed.
“Tom O’Flaherty was very good on Monday and he was again tonight,” continued Pellow. “If you look at his body shape, he’s not the biggest of guys. However, he’s incredibly powerful on the ball, he fights for everything, and those are the characteristics we look for in our players. Again tonight he really fronted up and did a lot of good work.
“James Freeman put in another really solid performance, particularly defensively, and you can see Wilhelm - even though he’s not been here that long - he’s a player who can take control of things, especially line-outs, and really add some leadership to the side.
“Also, Will Chudley has a great game. He did everything we asked of him, he was strong, he communicated well and he led by example throughout.”
The Braves are next in action on Monday, October 2 when London Irish are the visitors to Sandy Park (7:30pm).
Braves: M Haines (S Ma’asi 54); T O’Flaherty, T Hendrickson, H Strong, H Cully; J Simmonds, W Chudley (A Bagwell 62); M Low (A Hepburn h/t), S Malton (J Innard 60), G Holmes (J Owlett 52); E Holmes (L Pearson 74), W van der Sluys; J Freeman, J Salvi (capt), J McRae (S Lonsdale 66). Replacement (not used): G Parks,
Tries: Penalty Try, Low, O’Flaherty, Chudley; Conversions - Penalty Try, J Simmonds (3)
Bristol United: J Wallace, R Edwards (M Holden 65), T Palamo, S Bedlow, T Hargan (R Forbes 70); C Sheedy, A Uren; J O’Connell, J Liney (B Gompels 8), N English (A Gibson 32); J Joyce (capt, T Rowland 70), J Quinn; T Pashley, O Robinson, D Thurston (M Cresswell 12). Replacements (not used): D Watchorn, R Cullen.
Tries - Bedlow, Quinn, Holden; Conversions - Sheedy (2)
Referee: V Boscawen