Match Report: Chiefs 29 - 11 Bristol Bears

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With the skies pitch black over Sandy Park and the smear of rain drifting across the floodlights, Chiefs welcomed Bristol Bears for a first A-Game friendly of the 2023/24 season.

Inspired by the determination and energy of the Chiefs team of Saturday afternoon – who secured a 43-0 result against Sale Sharks – this A-team made their intentions crystal clear, even if the weather wasn’t, from minute one.

The first set-piece of the evening provided the perfect platform. A secure pack trundled their way from their own 10m up to halfway where an opportunistic carry from Joe Snow brought the Exetermen to the edge of the Bristol 22.

Recycling their way throughout the remaining yards to the whitewash, an advantage loomed in Chiefs’ favour, but it wasn’t needed. With the power and size of Max Norey on the ball, the hooker had no issue slamming his way over for the opening score.

Given an off-side penalty, Bristol first chose to take the lineout option, however, when another came in the resultant phases and in the middle of the Exeter 22, Sam Worsley indicated a shot at goal to secure his side’s first points.

The momentum for Chiefs’ second score began in the eleventh minute with a lineout on the edge of the Bristol 22. Aidon Davis collected the throw cleanly before Ross Vintcent peeled off the back to the short-side for a scamper down the touchline – in as light-footed a manner as any back rower can ever claim to be.

Keeping the foot on the throat of Bristol, Chiefs remained calm in the 22. Will Haydon-Wood found a clean line to run, popping the pass overhead to a returning Ollie Devoto who fed Vintcent with the final pass for the score in the far corner. A tough conversion attempt from tight to the touchline rebounded off the left upright for Haydon-Wood.

Though no more points were to come the way of the hosts, a key feature of the remainder of the first half was the well-executed connections and willingness to take chances of Devoto, Arthur Relton, Joe Snow and Haydon-Wood.

However, Chiefs had to deal with 10 minutes down to 14 men as, on 25 minutes, full-back Dan John was shown a yellow card for a deliberate knock-on. Determination to maintain their coverage in defence from Chiefs meant the only points Bristol could secure in John’s absence was a penalty from Worsley three minutes after the sin-binning.

A slight lack of inspiration seemed to overcome both sides in the closing 10 minutes of the first half as they volleyed between their halves, exchanging the chance to feed the scrum and negotiate the set piece.

Half-time: Chiefs 10 – 6 Bears

Olly Woodburn opened the second half for the Chiefs looking as if he’d spent no time at all away from the rugby field, collecting a high ball with grace in the air for the inaugural line-break of the second 40.

Despite some flashes of vibrancy from the backs, the theme of the evening seemed to be the forwards’ willingness to slog their way through the necessary grunt work. On 45 minutes, a ball held-up over the line wasn’t going to be enough to deter them.

Replicating the work which had earned them the territory in the Bears’ 22 in the first place, albeit this time on the opposite wing, the persistency paid off. Having only been on the pitch a mere minute, and in his first game of the 2023/24 season, replacement prop Patrick Schickerling fired over for the try.

Bears responded with what would prove to be their last points of the game just shy of the hour mark as the rain made a reappearance at Sandy Park. With an ever-widening man overlap on the far wing, Aiden Boshoff screamed for the ball to come his way. Jink-stepping his attempted tacklers, the Bristol live-wire leaped over to score.

Carving lovely lines with their carries, Aidon Davis and Relton paved the way for the latest Chiefs score. The tight work from the pack in the 22 gave fan-favourite Devoto the chance to back himself with a glimpse of space in front of the uprights. He charged through his would-be tacklers to smash the ball down, much to the delight of the crowd. Louis Sinclair added the simple conversion with his first kick of the night.

Another wily veteran – replacement prop Alec Hepburn fresh from the bench – appeared in the Bristol 22 for a strong carry as Chiefs launched another attack. His know-how at the breakdown made life difficult for Bristol who were penalised for their hands going to ground first on their attempted jackal.

A scrum infringement from Bristol in the closing minutes afforded the Sandy Park men a quick tap-and-go option metres out. Chapman rode a heavy first hit from Bristol but the strength of Schickerling proved heavier as he battered over for his second try of the evening. With Sinclair’s conversion, the night’s scoring was brought to an end.

It wasn’t the wash-out of Saturday afternoon, but this performance was about development, match fitness for injury returnees and giving coaches the chance to see what the wider members of their squad could bring to the table.

Ultimately, each player gave to each of their minutes on the pitch.

Full-time: Chiefs 29 – 11 Bears

Chiefs: D John; O Woodburn, R O’Loughlin, O Devoto, A Relton (T Clinch 72’); W Haydon-Wood (L Sinclair 53’), J Snow (W Smears 53’); D Southworth (A Hepburn 47’), M Norey © (O Burrows 67’), M Street (P Schickerling 47’), J Dunne, E O’Connor (O Beckerleg 71’), M Postlethwaite, A Davis, R Vintcent (H Chapman 60’).

Tries: Norey, Vintcent, Schickerling 2, Devoto Conversions: Sinclair 2

Yellow card: D John

Bears: M Jones; A Boshoff (O Lennon 78’), I Campbell Wu, J Jenkins, D Bailey; S Worsley, S Wolstenholme; S Grahamslaw (A Turner 40’), T Gwilliam (F Davies 40’), S Longwell (J Halliwell 60’), C Rice, E Holmes, J Owen, A Tull (L Trevett 58’), P Pearce.

Tries: Boshoff Penalties: Worsley 2

Attendance: 1,532

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