Radio Exe Match Report: Bayonne 40 – 17 Exeter Chiefs

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A frustrating evening in Bayonne saw Exeter Chiefs come away without adding any points to their table tally as they finish the Investec Champions Cup pool stages in second place of their pool.

The home side were very much one with nothing to lose, and that lack of pressure saw them make use of their opportunities within the opening couple of minutes. Chasing down good ball, they worked with pace into the Chiefs’ 22 and Tom Spring crashed over in a pile of tacklers, spinning to show the referee he had indeed grounded ball. Thomas Dolhagaray added the conversion to get his side off to a strong start.

A good take underneath the high ball from Josh Hodge on his return from injury allowed Tom Cairns to quickly recycle ball to Alec Hepburn for a dominant first carry. The penalty came the way of the Chiefs for a Bayonne offside, but an unfortunate kick into the dead ball area from Harvey Skinner brought about a scrum.

A nifty lineout steal from Ethan Roots was the start of the creation of the Chiefs’ first cance at points. Despite line breaks from Jacques Vermeulen and Harvey Skinner, the Exeter men were pushed back to the Bayonne 10 metres line. It wasn’t far enough to dispel the threat as Dan Frost took the pass back quickly from his scrum half at the lineout to create a run-in for the hooker on the wing.

Henry Slade secured the conversion to bring the sides level on the scoreboard.

Unclean handling from the Chiefs cost them the scoreboard draw. A dropped ball in the midfield was scooped up by French hands as the Exeter men scrambled to try to cover the back field. Coming within metres of the line, the brutal figure of Konstantine Mikautadze forced his way over for the score.

Chiefs’ evening was made more difficult just shy of 20 minutes played as Ollie Devoto was sent from the field with a yellow card for an infringement as he made a try-saving tackle just metres from his own line.

With the man advantage, Bayonne went to the corer for the set piece but the resilience and brute of the Exeter forward pack blocked the threat. The ball being called held up gave Skinner the opportunity to clear his lines with the goal-line drop-out.

Bayonne looked to strike again shortly following, but the pressure of Dafydd Jenkins forced a dropped pass and the big Welshman was able to scoop it into his grasp to steal possession for the Chiefs.

They hadn’t forced the French side back far enough unfortunately, as they soon proved with half an hour gone. With the Chiefs forwards tackling hard in tight quarters at the line, Bayonne went to the wide channels with pace, enabling Aurelien Florian to take the last pass to run in the try. Dolhagaray then added the extras.

There was work to be done for the Exetermen as Bayonne ran in their fourth, bonus-point securing try just a minute later. Going from touchline to touchline with nifty passes and offloads in contact, Victor Hanoun was put over the whitewash in the corner. Oncemore, the conversion came from the French fly-half.

Bayonne were reduced in number with five minutes left in the half as Dolhagaray was sent from the field for a cynical kick of the ball into touch as Skinner broke down the wing and looked to feed the ball back for Olly Woodburn who was charging up to the breakdown.

An unfortunate handling error in the air at the lineout cost the Chiefs the opportunity and Bayonne were able to weather the remainder of the first half without conceding any further points.

Half-time: Bayonne 26 – 7 Chiefs

Bayonne started the second half a man down and Chiefs started to determined to make use of that fact. Getting ball on the front foot, a lovely carry from Devoto set the platform. Using the phases, Slade put a looping pass out to Rusi Tuima on the wing. The big second rower rampaged his way through multiple tackle attempts, being brought down just short of the line.

Patience to recycle gave Ehren Painter the chance to flick the ball out of the breakdown to Jenkins for the captain to carry over. Under pressure of chasers, it was an uncharacteristic miss of the uprights from Slade with the conversion attempt.

Having been so instrumental in the first try of the second half, Tuima got one of his own just moments later. Working hard on the restart, Chiefs forced an error from Bayonne which saw them steal the ball. A big carry from a charging Vermeulen clocked down some of the yards between the Exeter men and the line before quick work got Tuima over on the far side.

With the deafening boos of the crowd ringing around the stadium, Slade’s conversion attempt rebounded off the left upright.

After a passage of unrelenting work for the forwards at the scrum and set piece, it looked to be a characteristic tap-and-go which would get the Chiefs their next set of points. Bayonne were able to force a fumble as Frost looked to stretch over the line, however.

So, back to the lineout the Chiefs went. Playing ball across field with a chip from Skinner to Woodburn, there was another chance looming. The winger was brought down just two metres short, but the referee consulted his TMO as there looked to be a deliberate knock-on from Florian which prevented an offload from Woodburn to replacement Josh Iosefa-Scott.

Florian was sent from the field with a yellow card for the infringement, but his teammates had enough remaining weight on the field to hold the Chiefs up over the line.

Bayonne struck as the hour mark ticked by. Working their maul drive off of a lineout on the Chiefs’ five metre line, replacement Federico Mori took the ball and snuck through a gap as the Chiefs looked to change from the tight defensive quarters to cover the wider channels. Dolhagaray converted once more.

The evening was once more reduced to a game of 29 players when Chiefs’ captain Jenkins became the latest player to be sent to the sin bin, his infringement being a high tackle.

With the man advantage, Bayonne bided their time – fluctuating between short, strong forward carries and light footwork from their backs – and it produced a second opportunity for Mori to land himself underneath the posts for a try which Dolhagaray had no issues converting.

The night was not to end without more controversy. Jack Yeandle was sent from the field with the game’s fifth yellow card before Joe Hawkins received the first red card for a high tackle on brace-scorer, Mori.

While a frustrating end to the pool stages, Chiefs were already secured in their progression to the round of 16 to follow in this season’s Investec Champions Cup.

Full-time: Bayonne 40 – 17 Chiefs

Bayonne: T Spring; A Florian, S Maqala (Mori 60’), Y Lestrade, V Hanoun; T Dolhagaray, G Rouet (Labarbe 49’); M Perchaud (Cormenier 49’), V Giudicelli (Bosch 47’), L Tagi (Villar 65’), D Marchois, K Mikautadze (Leindekar 47’), P Huguet (Ariceta 66’), B Heguy, R Bruni.

Replacements: Pourailly

Tries: Spring, Mikautadze, Florian, Hanoun, Mori 2 Conversions: Dolhagaray 5

Yellow card: Thomas Dolhagaray, Aurelien Florian

Chiefs: J Hodge; B Hammersley (Wimbush 70’), H Slade, O Devoto (Hawkins 49’), O Woodburn; H Skinner, T Cairns (Townsend 56’); A Hepburn (Southworth 62’), D Frost (Yeandle 56’), E Painter (Iosefa-Scott 48’), R Tuima (Pearson 62’), D Jenkins, E Roots, J Vermeulen, G Fisilau (Vintcent 62’).

Tries: Frost, Jenkins, Tuima Conversions: Slade

Yellow card: Ollie Devoto, Dafydd Jenkins

Red card: Joe Hawkins

Referee: Nika Amashukeli

Attendance: 12,625

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