Exeter Chiefs claimed home-ground advantage in the Champions Cup last-16 after overcoming a 14-man Castres side 40-3 at Sandy Park.
In truth, it was a mediocre display from the Devonians, but they benefited from the visitors’ ill-discipline, who had one player red-carded and another four sin-binned.
At one stage, they had their whole back-row off the field after Feibyan Tukino was sent off and Baptiste Delaporte and Mathieu Babillot were sin-binned.
Babillot’s indiscretion resulted in a penalty try and handed Exeter a 14-3 advantage at the break – with Henry Slade scoring earlier on – but the hosts didn’t really benefit from the extra man until later in the game.
Joe Simmonds did give them an 18-point buffer by touching down, but it was only in the final 10 minutes when the floodgates opened.
They were awarded a second penalty try before Jack Nowell, and Christ Tshiunza crossed the whitewash to complete a comfortable victory.
Castres were restricted to an early Ben Botica penalty, and while it was a game that will not live long in the memory, 2020 European champions Exeter will feel relieved to have got the job done.
Castres’ misery in top-flight European competition continues, though, as they suffered an eighth successive defeat and 20th reversal on the bounce away from home.
Exeter showed five changes for their final pool game, including starts for centre Rory O’Loughlin, prop James Kenny and Jannes Kirsten, who partnered Dafydd Jenkins in the second-row.
Castres, eliminated before they arrived in Devon following three successive defeats, predictably made wholesale switches, fielding only three starting line-up survivors from last weekend’s home loss to Edinburgh.
Botica kicked Castres ahead through a 40-metre penalty, and Exeter looked lethargic during the opening 15 minutes.
The Chiefs’ discipline was poor, and skipper Slade twice made handling errors under little pressure as Castres made life distinctly uncomfortable.
Exeter’s scrum came under intense pressure during the opening quarter, and Botica was narrowly wide with another long-range penalty attempt after the Chiefs’ latest set-piece infringement.
Wing Olly Woodburn was the one player who tested Castres’ defence early on, and Exeter finally put together a meaningful passage of play that resulted in a 26th-minute try for Slade.
Woodburn and prop Josh Iosefa-Scott made initial inroads before hooker Jack Innard cut the line and delivered a scoring pass to Slade, who converted his own try.
Exeter looked to add a second score before the interval, and their cause was helped when Delaporte received a yellow card from referee Andrew Brace.
Castres then went down to 12 players during a shambolic finish to the first half from their perspective.
Tukino saw red, then from the resulting lineout, captain Babillot illegally collapsed a maul, and Brace awarded a penalty try before sending the Castres skipper packing.
It meant that Castres had lost their entire starting back-row through two yellows and one red in the space of four minutes, and Exeter took a 14-3 lead into the break.
Exeter still lacked fluency, despite their numerical advantage, and it took them 13 minutes of the second period to add a third try, which arrived in trademark fashion.
Castres had no answer as the Chiefs pack drove a close-range lineout, and Simmonds touched down before Slade’s conversion took Exeter past 20 points.
Exeter struggled to stitch threatening phase-play together, and it was no surprise when the bonus-point arrived from a driven maul, with Castres collecting another yellow card as Azar was sin-binned, then Nowell and Tshiunza pounced in the dying minutes.
Improved second half helps Stormers to seal home last-16 clash
The Stormers made sure that they would be playing at home in the last-16 of the Champions Cup after defeating Clermont Auvergne 30-16 on Saturday.
John Dobson’s men struggled in the opening half which allowed the Frenchmen to get their noses in front via three Anthony Belleau penalties.
Kade Wolhuter was also accurate off the tee, kicking two three-pointers of his own, but the South Africans found themselves 9-6 down just after the interval.
They improved in the second period, however, and the visitors failed to cope, with Evan Roos, Herschel Jantjies, Daniel du Plessis, and Deon Fourie tries securing the bonus-point win.
Bautista Delguy crossed the whitewash for Clermont, but it proved to be mere consolation in what was another disappointing Champions Cup clash for the three-time finalists.
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The article Champions Cup: Exeter and Stormers seal home games in the last-16 after wins over Castres and Clermont respectively appeared first on Planetrugby.com.