Exeter grab play-off advantage
May 19, 2010
Exeter's James Hanks takes a lineout throw in front of a capacity crowd at Sandy Park © Getty Images
Exeter have moved one kick closer to the Guinness Premiership after a record capacity crowd of 10,021 saw the home side beat Bristol 9-6 in the first leg of the inaugural Championship play-off final.
Chiefs fly-half Gareth Steenson kicked three penalties to Bristol counterpart Adrian Jarvis' two in a match devoid of tries, although a number of touchdowns were ruled out by the referee or TMO in a tense affair at Sandy Park.
Championship table-toppers Bristol will seek to turn over the three-point deficit when the sides meet for the second leg in a week's time at Memorial Stadium.
The home side applied the early pressure and were rewarded with a penalty when Bristol strayed offside on their own 22 and Steenson coolly slotted the ball between the uprights.
Bristol tried to hit back on 14 minutes when full back Luke Arscott chipped ahead but wing Lee Robinson, on his opposite left flank, was beaten to the touchdown by some good cover play from wing Matt Jess.
Bristol should have scored minutes before half-time as Arscott touched down out on the left but the final pass from his brother Tom was judged to have been forward and Exeter were able to clear their lines from a penalty at the resultant scrum.
Just before the interval the Chiefs were penalised for not releasing the ball at the tackle and Jarvis kicked a 35-metre penalty from in front of the posts to level the scores. Centre Nic Sestaret was forced to touchdown over his own line but Exeter were penalised when flanker Chad Slade slipped his binding and the kick from Jarvis put Bristol in front for the first time.
Chiefs' wing Jess was bundled into touch by Jarvis just short of the line but the home side were back on level terms minutes later when flanker Iain Grieve was penalised for coming in at the side and Steenson landed his second kick.
Referee David Pearson called on the services of TMO Geoff Warren to decide whether Luke Arscott had touched down, after McKenzie had failed to collect the ball, but the pictures showed that replacement flanker Tom Johnson had beaten him to the ball.
In the final five minutes Bristol were forced to defend their line after Phil Dollman went through replacement flanker James Merriman's tackle before the TMO again ruled out a try. But Bristol were penalised for collapsing the maul and Steenson landed his third penalty of the game to seal the victory and set up an exciting second leg.
Huw Richards assesses where Wales are after a mixed Six Nations, with front row seats still very much available for the World Cup
John Mitchell lapped up the action on 'Sensational Saturday' - but warns not to expect a repeat come Rugby World Cup time later this year
Craig Dowd warns England, Ireland and Wales they should play to their strengths rather than those of the All Blacks and the Wallabies
Tom Hamilton runs the rule over just where the six countries stand ahead of the global gathering in September