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Exeter Chiefs are already through to the knockout stage of the Heineken Champions Cup – and will look to thrill the home faithful as they welcome Pool A basement side Castres Olympique for Round 4 on Saturday.
Their only defeat in the competition so far came last week at the hands of the Vodacom Bulls, 39-28, though Jack Innard’s late try saw them come away with a crucial bonus point.
Chiefs, who are looking to secure a top seeding for the knockout, will be reassured with the knowledge that they enjoyed a comfortable win in the reverse fixture last month, beating the TOP 14 side 27-12.
The Pool A match kicks off at 5.30pm local time at Sandy Park, and can be watched on BT Sport, beIN SPORTS, SuperSport, and FloRugby.
Exeter head coach Ali Hepher: “At the moment, we’re giving teams an extra five or six penalties that we shouldn’t be doing, so there are lessons to learn around that area.”
#ThrowbackThursday to this rollercoaster from the opening round 🎢
Who'll come out on top and qualify this weekend? 🤜🤛
— Heineken Champions Cup (@ChampionsCup) January 19, 2023
- Dave Ewers has made the joint-most dominant carry contacts in the tournament, with 16. Sam Simmonds also ranks in the top five, with 13.
- Christ Tshiunza has made as many clear-outs as any other player in the competition (21, equal with Leinster’s James Ryan and Ulster’s Alan O’Connor).
- Joe Simmonds’ passes have caused a competition-high total of four receiver errors (equal with Racing 92’s Nolann le Garrec).
- Chiefs have made the most post-contact metres (390) but the fewest kicks (55) in the competition this season.
- Also making three clean breaks, Josaia Raisuqe made 94 metres in Round 3.
- Of Castres’ six tries in the competition so far this season, three have begun with a set piece, and two have come from a tap penalty.
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Exeter Chiefs earned a home tie in the Heineken Champions Cup Round of 16 after an emphatic 40-3 mauling of Castres Olympique at Sandy Park on Saturday.
Chiefs finish second in Pool A thanks to tries from Henry Slade, Sam Simmonds, Jack Nowell and Chris Tshiunza, with the hosts also awarded a pair of penalty tries.
Castres, who exit EPCR competitions for the season with the defeat, had Feibyan Tukino sent off at the end of the first half for a shoulder to the head – with the visitors awarded three further yellow cards in the contest.
The @ExeterChiefs are finishing with a flourish ✨@nowellsy15 collects a kick, pirouettes like he's graduating from the Royal Ballet, cracks out a gosling (baby goose 👀) and slides home 🩰 #HeinekenChampionsCup pic.twitter.com/u8JD0JE5Ta
— Heineken Champions Cup (@ChampionsCup) January 21, 2023
Castres started the game on the front foot and scored the first points of the contest through a Ben Botica penalty. Exeter struggled to get a foothold amid a number of handling errors.
But they took the lead on 25 minutes through a wonderfully crafted move. Jack Innard’s line-breaking run got momentum into the Exeter attack before he offloaded to Slade, who crossed the whitewash in the corner.
The visitors were soon in card trouble as Baptiste Delaporte was sent to the sin bin after a series of infringements in the red zone. The big blow came moment later, however, as Tukino led with his shoulder into the head of an Exeter player and earned himself an early bath just before the interval.
Further ill-discipline would follow as Mathieu Babillot brought down an Exeter maul that was careering toward the try-line; a penalty try and a yellow card for the back-row forward followed – the French outfit down to 12-men for part of the contest.
With 52 minutes on the clock Exeter added their third try. A lineout maul rumbled through the dejected Castres pack and over, Sam Simmonds taking the plaudits for his 21st try in 27 EPCR appearances.
Castres held their own with 14 men until the final eight minutes when Exeter turned the screw with a trio of tries. Another maul off the back of a lineout brought Chiefs’ second penalty score of the contest – Aurélien Azar sent to the sin bin for bringing down a maul illegally.
Down to 13 men once more, Castres were unable to stop a relentless Exeter. A dominant scrum put the French side on the back foot before Henry Skinner floated a cross-field kick into the path of Nowell, who touched down for Exeter’s fifth with three minutes remaining.
There was further punishment for Castres as Exeter moved the ball quickly through the hands to Tshiunza, who punctuated their victory in the final play.