Exeter extends the hope of progress of the Champions Cup with a win over Castres
Exeter kept their quarter-final hope in the Heineken Champions Cup alive with a 34-12 victory over the bonus point in Castres in Sandy Park.
But the leaders of the Gallagher Premiership are still faced with a huge task to move forward and need victory on two times the European champion Munster in Limerick on Saturday.
Unless they defeat Munster in Thomond Park – and refuse them a lost bonus point, or collect a maximum of five points – Irish heavyweights win Pool Two.
The Chiefs, however, still have hope after Jack Nowell's efforts, Jack Simpel, Joe Simmonds, Jonny Hill, Tom O & # 39; Flaherty, Henry Slade and Luke Cowan-Dickie, plus two Simmonds conversions – eliminated 14-man French champion Castres .
And it gave the Premiership late reason for cheering, with five clubs – Bath, Wasps, Gloucester, Leicester and Newcastle – being eliminated before the penultimate round of pool games was even completed.
The replacement prop of Castres, Tudor Stroe, was sent away midway through the second half for a swinging forearm to the head of Chiefs center Ollie Devoto.
And although wing Taylor Paris and center Thomas Combezou scored attempts for Castres, with the fly-half Benjamin Urdapilleta adding a conversion, Exeter were good value and rightly retained their European dream.
Exeter showed some switches from the side that beat Premiership opponents Bristol last weekend, with England behind Cutler copying the changes after his recovery after a hamstring injury.
And it took Nowell only three minutes to stamp his class across the game and disassociate Castres' defense, claiming a memorable 45-meter solo experience.
Jack Nowell touches for Exeter's opening problem (David Davies / PA)
Nowell, who appeared for the first time since England's victory over Japan in mid-November, gathered from the base of a ruck, then sprinted into space and cleared away three attempted tackles when Exeter had a dream start.
Simmonds drove the conversion wide, but the Chiefs had left and ran as Castres's fragile self-confidence came from losing three French league games of their last four outings.
But their reaction was impressive, just as they went in their shell, but four minutes later they hit back with a tying try, with Canada international Paris rounding off a smooth passing movement to cross without hindrance.
It was a shot on the Arch of Exeter, but they regained the lead after a lively opening quarter.
A strong attacking scrum took a foothold, then it was all about Devoto, who teased the defense of Castres with his footwork before he found Simmonds through an astonishing one-handed off-load that gave the fly half an easy finish.
Exeter enjoyed the space afforded them by a lax defense, and they claimed a third attempt 10 minutes before the rest after the patient work of the Chiefs' pack that ended with collecting the scrum-half Nic White & # 39; s pass to cross unhindered.
The Chiefs were then agonizingly close to securing a bonus point after a breathtaking length-of-the-field set started by Nowell's holding sales involving multiple players, but Slade lost number eight Matt Kvesic's scoring pass.
Exeter, however, was in charge during the break and had a 12-point lead and looked excellent to increase their score.
And Slade made up for his mistake, by creating Exeter's fourth try by a great break and cleverly placed kick that scooped up Flaherty's speed to score.
Simmonds converted, and although Castres replied with Combezou's touchdown, Slade continued to shine by impressively closing off for another attempt by Exeter before Cowan-Dickie made an emphatic success.
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