Ali Hepher hails Exeter Chiefs’ character

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Exeter Chiefs assistant coach Ali Hepher praised the character of his team after they rallied through a late Stuart Hogg try to edge out Bristol Bristol Bears 19-13 at Sandy Park on Saturday.

Replacement back Henry Purdy’s interception try in the 70th minute brought the visitors back into the contest at two points adrift, but Exeter full-back Hogg then struck to keep the Chiefs firmly in play-off contention.

Not an easy victory

“We had plenty of opportunities, especially at the end of the first half and start of the second, and we tightened up a little bit and made a few errors,” Hepher said.

“But they are a tough side to break.

“It was pleasing the character we showed after we conceded the intercept try. We were strong then, and got straight back on the attack.

“We have been getting the opportunities – we haven’t necessarily been converting them. We have got to be clinical, and that’s all part of the process of building your confidence and level of performance through the season.

“We have started to put some performances together in the league – Bath, Saracens and now Bristol.”

Hepher also praised fine performances by Hogg and England wing Jack Nowell, who both regularly tested Bristol’s defence through their strong running and powerful carrying.

“Stuart has been playing fantastically well for us all season,” Hepher added.

“We are pleased with the way he is going. There is none better with ball in hand when he is really motoring.

“It was always going to be a little bit of time with Jack, and getting a run of games and hoping he stays injury-free. He has been incredible for us, and I dare say people will be looking at him.

“Hopefully he goes back in the international setup, because that’s where he deserves to be.”

For Bristol, it was a fourth successive Premiership defeat as Exeter prevailed in front of a record Sandy Park crowd.

Chiefs’ new East Stand development allowed an attendance of 14,100 for the West Country derby, and Exeter fashioned a workmanlike success.

First-half tries by wing Tom O’Flaherty and lock Jonny Hill, with fly-half Joe Simmonds adding one conversion, put them in control of the contest.

But a dour second period of few scoring chances burst into life during the closing minutes when Purdy claimed a breakaway try that Callum Sheedy converted, adding to his earlier penalty.

Exeter’s lead was suddenly threatened, but they dug deep and confirmed a seventh win of their Premiership campaign when Hogg scored late on, and Simmonds added the extras.

There was no way back for Bristol, and they remain in the Premiership’s bottom two having won just three of their first 11 league games, although Sheedy’s 80th-minute penalty at least gave them a losing bonus point.

Bristol rugby director Pat Lam said: “The first half, we gave away silly penalties and knock-ons. The physicality was great, but we spent too much time on defence.

“It was about hanging in there. We had them on the edges, but some of our execution wasn’t good. There was a lot of messy stuff.

“We are not far away. We have got to keep knocking the door, and eventually it will come.

“That is a big, physical Exeter team, and it shows you the boys haven’t lost confidence, but little things are hurting us. These boys won’t give up.”

Sale Sharks eyeing play-off berth after win over Wasps

Meanwhile, Sale Sharks director of rugby Alex Sanderson wants his team to build on their to build on their 26-18 New Year’s Day victory over Wasps as they look to get back into the race for the play-offs.

Sale had won just three of their first nine Premiership matches but got the better of Wasps as they scored four tries to seal their win at the AJ Bell Stadium and move up to ninth position in the standings.

Although fourth-placed Gloucester are still nine points ahead of them, Sanderson was happy with the way his team battled to maximum points.

“It wasn’t the easiest of victories but we’ve done everything we needed to do to help us keep marching up the table,” he said.

“The whole team have given me everything again. I’ll have a nice night now but then it’s about cracking on again – we’ve started the year really well.”

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