Exeter 38-34 Bristol: Chiefs book play-off spot the hard way
Last Updated: 08/04/17 6:42pm
Exeter secured their place in the Premiership play-offs the hard way as they were pushed to the limit by a determined Bristol outfit.
The Chiefs had to fight back from 10-24 down to secure the win while their visitors agonisingly fell short in the final moments.
This latest defeat for Bristol leaves them eight points adrift at the bottom of the table with Wasps arriving at Ashton Gate in Round 20.
That said, it was a hugely spirited performance from Bristol against an error-ridden Exeter and the visitors led 34-31 with only four minutes remaining before a late try from Thomas Waldrom snatched win for the hosts.
Waldrom scored two tries in total and there was one apiece for Olly Woodburn, Geoff Parling and Ian Whitten. Henry Slade converted all four and added a penalty, with Gareth Steenson adding a conversion.
For Bristol Gavin Henson scored 19 points with a try, three penalties and three conversions and Jason Woodward, Will Hurrell and Mitch Eadie also added five-pointers.
Bristol fell behind after only a minute. A chip ahead from Woodward surrendered possession and the Chiefs counter-attacked in style to set up a try for Woodburn.
Slade converted but moments later he gifted Bristol their opening try when his telegraphed pass was picked off by Hurrell, who raced 45 metres to score.
Henson converted and kicked a penalty to put Bristol in front but the visitors suffered an injury blow when flanker Jack Lam was helped off and replaced by Nick Fenton-Wells.
However, they overcame this setback to stun the hosts with a second try. This time a stray pass from prop Harry Williams was seized upon by Woodward, who outpaced Jack Nowell on a 75-metre run to the line.
A careless error from Billy Searle, who knocked on an aimless up and under, gave Exeter a platform in their opponents' 22 and when Bristol were penalised at the resulting scrum, Slade kicked a penalty to leave the hosts trailing 17-10 at the end of the first quarter.
Bristol increased the pressure on the home side with a third try when a strong run from Jack Tovey and a neat pass from Gaston Cortes sent Henson over.
The visitors suffered a further blow when Ryan Bevington limped off before Chiefs' lock Mitch Lees became another injury victim.
Parling was Exeter's replacement and with the last movement of the half he scored a crucial try by forcing his way over in the corner. Slade converted and the home side were back in contention at the interval.
Within 33 seconds of the restart, Exeter were level when Whitten crossed for their third try - but the visitors had the advantage of a keen wind in the second half.
However, poor kicking and the concession of frequent penalties prevented Bristol benefiting as the home pack began to take control.
After 52 minutes, Chiefs regained the lead when Waldrom finished off a line-out drive but a Henson penalty and the bonus point try from Eadie gave the visitors a 34-31 lead going into the final quarter.
Exeter brought on Steenson and Michele Campagnaro in an attempt to revive their fortunes. Henson was well short with a long distance penalty attempt and Bristol just could not hang on as Waldrom forced his way over for the winning try.