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Your News London Scottish 46 - Blaydon 20
31
JAN

Exeter Chiefs comfortably defeated Nottingham at Sandy Park today to return to the top of the table. Although promotion rivals Bristol have two games in hand, Exeter are now guaranteed a top-two spot going into the end of season play-offs.

There were just two changes from last week's comfortable dispatching of Bedford with Scotland A full-back Steve Jones coming in for Sean Marsden, and Danny Gray promoted from the bench as fly-half Gareth Steenson was taken ill. The influential James Scaysbrook was included as a replacement after returning from injury.

Chiefs got off to a fine start after Gray's kick was spilled into touch, allowing the Exeter pack to secure ball following a lineout on the Nottingham 22 and, after a penalty was awarded against the Nottingham pack, Gray slotted home within two minutes.

Just three minutes later, a break by Phil Dollman was cut short just shy of the visitors' try-line, though he managed to offload to the supporting Mark Foster who was left with a simple finish. Gray missed the touchline conversion but 8-0 after five minutes represented a brilliant start.

A spell of disjointed rugby then ensued for the next 10 minutes as both sides were guilty of knock-ons and off-side offences. Nottingham fly-half Greig Tonks missed a relatively simple penalty on 15 minutes and that seemed to spur the Chiefs into life.

Then the visitors' No 8 Jonathan Baird was sin-binned on 19 minutes for cynically coming in at the side and preventing an Exeter attack. Baird would return 10 minutes later with his side a further 14 points down.

As with the first try, Exeter's second came from a lineout, culminating in scrum-half Clive Stuart-Smith diving over after a ruck was formed on Nottingham's try-line. The lineout was clearly an area that Rob Baxter wanted his team to target, and captain Tom Hayes regularly opted for the set-piece instead of taking kickable penalties once Exeter's tails were up.

The faith in the lineout was justified once more as Bryan Rennie broke after another set-piece, and after ball was recycled and shipped wide, Andy Miller was able to dive over on the overlap. An impressive touch-line conversion from Gray extended the lead.

Exeter where totally dominant in every department, particularly in the first half. The effervescent Stuart-Smith and the solid Gray controlled the game behind an extremely impressive pack.

While the set-piece dominance provided the platform for the victory and the tries, a more expansive backs’ performance than usual was effective and pleasing on the eye, even after the withdrawal of centre Dollman on 15 minutes.

Exeter went through the phases consistently well against a lacklustre and tired looking Nottingham outfit. Gray was able to slot home two penalties late in the first half to take the score to 28-0 at the break, an identical half-time score to last week’s against Bedford.

Chiefs continued where they left off in the second half, as an early penalty was kicked to touch by Gray for a lineout. Despite the ball being held up on the line, the resulting scrum lead to passage of play where Chiefs' backs tormented the Nottingham defence once more until speedster Matt Jess broke a tackle with a side-step and slid in under the posts for a bonus-point try.

With the result and bonus-point ensured, Exeter appeared to take their feet off the gas a little as the second period wore on. Nottingham stole possession after high-kick and they were able to outnumber Exeter out wide and send Tonks over the whitewash.

A flurry of replacements by both sides saw the tempo and intensity taken out of the game, though Exeter continued to dominate territory and possession. A break by replacement scrum-half Haydn Thomas sent Jess through for his second try, which was converted by Gray to bring his tally to 17.

Nottingham were able to grab another consolation late on through centre Timothy Streather, though the game was as good as won inside the first half. Next week’s local derby away at Cornish Pirates gives Baxter's men the opportunity to extend their three-match winning streak as they look to try to pip Bristol to top spot.

Teams:

Exeter Chiefs – Jones; Jess, Dollman (Sestaret 15mins), Rennie (Matavesi 63mins), Foster; Gray, Stuart-Smith (Thomas 55mins) Sturgess, Clark (Blythe 63mins), Tui (Budgen 70mins), Hayes (capt), Hanks, Slade (Scaysbrook 60mins), Andy Miller, Baxter (Gannon 56mins)

Nottingham – Jackson; Cobden, Streather, Hayter (Johnston 32mins), Savage; Tonks, White (Harrison 55mins); Fowkes (Du Plessis 55mins), Sammons, Buxton (Parr 55mins,; Raven, Nimmo (Rouse 55mins); Hammond (capt), Baird (Eggleshaw 55mins), Sheriff.

Replacement not used – Blake

Officials:

Ref – Mathieu Raynal; TJs – Philip Davie & Andrew Pearce

Scorers:

Chiefs – Tries: Foster, Stuart-Smith, Miller, Jess (2); Pens: Gray (3); Cons: Gray (4).

Nottingham – Tries: Tonks, Streather; Con: Tonks

Attendance:

4,084

By Joe Ridge

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