By Ian Todd
October 8 2016
Life in the Premiership doesn't get any easier with a home defeat to Exeter. The opposition racked up another big score although it was a major improvement on last Sunday's loss to Wasps. Bristol competed valiantly but simply could not contain the attacking threat of the visiting side.
Bristol kicked off the first evening game of the season and with less than a minute gone Tom Varndell was knocked unconscious and off for a HIA. At the subsequent scrum Exeter were awarded a free kick and broke clear, outflanked the scrambling defence and Woodburn was in at the corner for a converted try.
Thretton Palamo did very well in claiming the restart and Bristol swept forward in an effort to hit back immediately and Exeter were penalised for a deliberate knock-on. Tusi Pisi made touch on the 22 but the lineout ended up being patted into Exeter hands. Exeter made little of the possession and ended up giving away a soft penalty the Pisi sent to touch on virtually the same spot as the previous one. This time Bristol claimed the ball but the chip ahead was far too long and easily marked. Another injury to a Bristol wing followed when Ryan Edwards was brought crashing to the ground when he was taken out in the air by his opposite number. The yellow card for the Exeter man seemed hard to me; Edwards went flying into his man who had absolutely no chance to take any avoiding action or prevent any injury from occurring. Frankly, it wasn’t him who was responsible for the collision. Additionally Edwards took another bang to the head later on in the second half which resulted in the Exeter player being patched up on the touchline whilst Edward gamely carried on whilst clutching his head. I hope the medical staff picks up on this because, when it comes to concussion injuries, players can be their own worst enemies.
Initially Bristol failed to make much of the one-man advantage and the game descended into one of those depressing kicking contests that are either terminated when someone finally goes for touch or when someone knocks-on. It was the latter that brought this bout to an end and it was Exeter that had the territorial advantage. Exeter looked very powerful at this point and it was unsurprising to see Woodburn over for a second converted try that put Exeter 14 points ahead.
Bristol finally managed a score of their own and was a cracker with Edwards swerving around a defender at great pace before feeding Jordan Williams who sped over. The conversion attempt went wide but at least Bristol showed they could trouble the visitors. However it was the old, old story when Bristol shortly after scoring gave away a stupid penalty and Steenson made the score 5 – 17. Exeter attacked again, putting the Bristol defence under tremendous pressure, driving right up to the line. Waldrom looked as if he was just short but a brief review by the TMO saw the try given. The well struck conversion made it 5 – 24. Bristol still had to survive prolonged pressure from the visitors but right at the end the referee suddenly seemed to realise that it was Bristol who had the edge at the scrum and a penalty to touch closed the half.
Bristol claimed the kick-off of the second period but Exeter recovered possession and patiently worked their way close and closer to the Bristol line. It looked inevitable that they would score and, sure enough, Waldrom went over for a second short range try. Bristol, to their credit, looked undaunted by this and showed they too could score from a solid forward effort. A great, well controlled, driving maul smashed its way up to the line before Ross McMillan broke around the flank to crash over. The conversion effort again went wide.
Bristol again gave away a penalty in front of the posts and the unerring Steenson edged his side further in front at 10 – 34. Bristol showed great resolve to hit back again from another excellent forward effort. First Exeter were penalised at a scrum and the ball was sent to touch and then replacement Max Crumpton showed determination and strength to burst over the line. Williams was called into action as kicker and was spot on with his effort from out wide.
Bristol were definitely going for the try-scoring bonus point in some frantic play that, in truth, failed to make much ground. It was a creditable effort even if trying to play you way out of trouble from five metres out might not be the best tactic. Then again, the kicking game had not proved very fruitful all evening so perhaps it was the best approach after all. Sadly it came to nothing when a desperate pass ended up in Exeter hands and Hill picked up a popped up ball from a player on the ground (with a hint of forward to it) and over for a try that, predictably, Steenson converted for a final score of 17 - 41