Exeter Chiefs travel to Bristol Bears looking to keep their slim play-off hopes alive


Exeter Chiefs take the short trip to face west-country rivals Bristol Bears knowing that a defeat would effectively end their hopes of a play-off spot.

The Chiefs currently sit in sixth position after several inconsistent performances have seen them slip out of the top four.

Going into their penultimate fixture they trail Northampton by six points and last year’s runners’ up would require a perfect run of results and other matches to go their way in order to sneak back into the play-off positions before the end of the season.

However, the immediate task at hand will prove even more difficult due to Exeter’s poor form on the road in 2022 as they have only won two matches away from Sandy Park since the turn of the year.

Resultantly,  the confidence within the squad has evidently plummeted and the Chiefs have only won once in their last four league matches, of which came against rock-bottom Bath Rugby.

A break from the pressures of playing could not have come at a better time for the Chiefs and their Director of  Rugby Rob Baxter feels as though his side have come back with a new attitude. Baxter said:

“We’ve come back into training and I think the most encouraging thing I’ve seen us do is that the players have grabbed hold of a lot of stuff. They’ve had some of their own meetings and they’ve made some decisions on where they want to move forward.

“I think it’s important we don’t just sit here and look backwards, because I think the most important thing in any successful side is your ability to always move forward.

“If you have had successful seasons, which we have done in recent years, the toughest thing is moving forward to the next one and moving forward to the next thing.  I don’t want us sitting here thinking ‘we didn’t do this or we didn’t do that’ those things have happened, it’s more about where we go now.

“As I said, we have a strong playing group here and there are some guys there who have really grabbed hold of some that in these last few weeks – that’s why I’m really looking forward to Friday night because I think we’ll see the effect that’s had.”

Baxter was also keen to express that while a play-off spot is still mathematically possible, then the Chiefs will continue to believe, he said:

“You only have to look at the Premier League, it looked like Liverpool had blown it, then all of a sudden results change and they are back within a point of Manchester City.

“All we can do is play well and put pressure on those sides around us. If we can win on Friday, then at least it will force them to do things and collect points.

“If they don’t collect points and we do, then we give ourselves a chance.

“What I want to see from our guys is an energy and excitement around these last few weeks.”

Although, Bristol Bears are far from flying either, having won just once in their last six Gallagher Premiership matches falling 56-26 to Leicester Tigers in their most recent outing.

Yet that singular victory came against another play-off hopeful, in another west-country derby. The victory came in dramatic fashion at Ashton Gate in front of the home fans where the Bears won 29-28 thanks to a last-gasp try from Toby Fricker. 

The Bristol Bears’ Director of Rugby Pat Lam was quick to praise his side following the triumph and felt the home crowd were the key factor to motivating his side to find the level that the Bears have been more accustomed to in recent years.

Bristol have won four of their last six matches at home in the league and with the fixture against the Chiefs being the final home match of the season for Bristol, Lam will be hoping his side can give their fans one last reason to cheer following a difficult campaign.

Team News:

Bristol Bears:

Lam has made five changes as the Bears prepare to say a last goodbye to their 11 departing players.

One of the departing players, Alapati Leiua, has switched to inside centre, while Dave Atwood and John Afoa also start in their final appearance at Ashton Gate.

Steven Luatua will captain Bristol from number eight while both Charles Piutau and Luke Morahan both return to the starting line up.

Starting lineup:

15. Charles Piutau, 14. Luke Morahan, 13. Piers O’Conor, 12. Alapati Leiua, 11. Toby Fricker, 10. Callum Sheedy, 9. Harry Randall.

1. Jake Woolmore, 2. Harry Thacker, 3. John Afoa, 4. Dave Attwood, 5. Joe Joyce, 6. Chris Vui, 7. Sam Jeffries, 8. Steven Luatua (c).


16. Bryan Byrne, 17. Jono Benz-Salomon, 18. Jake Armstrong, 19. Fitz Harding, 20. Dan Thomas, 21. Andy Uren, 22. Ioan Lloyd, 23. Jack Bates.

Exeter Chiefs: 

Baxter follows suit by ringing the changes. There is four in total to the side that lost at Saracens last time out.

Harry Williams and Dave Ewers replace Marcus Street and Richard Captstick in the pack. While Joe Simmonds returns at fly-half replacing Tom Hendrickson in the starting 15 with Henry Slade moving to the centre.

The final change is a direct switch on the wing with Josh Hodge starting over Tom O’Flaherty.

Starting lineup:

15 Stuart Hogg, 14 Olly Woodburn, 13 Henry Slade, 12 Ian Whitten, 11 Josh Hodge, 10 Joe Simmonds, 9 Sam Maunder.

1 Alec Hepburn, 2 Jack Yeandle (capt), 3 Harry Williams, 4 Jonny Gray, 5 Sam Skinner, 6 Dave Ewers, 7 Jannes Kirsten, 8 Jacques Vermeulen.


16 Jack Innard, 17 James Kenny, 18 Patrick Schickerling, 19 Dafydd Jenkins, 20 Santiago Grondona, 21 Stu Townsend, 22 Harvey Skinner, 23 Tom Hendrickson

Follow us on Twitter @ProstInt.


About Author

Comments are closed.