|Bristol Bears (3) 22|
|Tries: O’Conor, Morahan, Lloyd Cons: Sheedy 2 Pen: Sheedy|
|Exeter Chiefs (15) 25|
|Tries: Dollman, Hidalgo-Clyne, Keast Cons: Steenson 2 Pens: Steenson 2|
Exeter scored late on to beat second-placed Bristol and move 11 points clear at the top of the Premiership.
Replacement prop Billy Keast touched down in the closing seconds to maintain the Chiefs’ 100% record since the season resumed earlier this month.
A much-changed Exeter side led 15-0 before the break, but the Bears replied with 17 unanswered points either side of the interval at Ashton Gate.
Ioan Lloyd looked to have won it for the hosts before Keast’s late try.
Only winger Olly Woodburn remained from the Exeter starting XV which had impressively won at Sale on Friday, and victory against another of their top-four rivals strengthened the Chiefs’ position as Premiership title favourites.
Those changes looked to be paying off early on when they took control in windy conditions.
Receiving the ball from an attacking scrum, centre Phil Dollman stepped his way through Bristol’s backline for the game’s first points and then wing Woodburn fed Scotland scrum-half Sam Hidalgo-Clyne to touch down smartly for his first Chiefs try.
Bristol had threatened a reply either side of the interval and finished off two well-worked moves to complete the turnaround, with star summer signing Semi Radradra producing an excellent offload in the build-up to Piers O’Conor’s try and Luke Morahan also going over for the home side.
Gareth Steenson’s penalty made it 18-17 in Exeter’s favour, only for Welsh teenager Lloyd to outpace the visitors’ backline with an arcing run to touch down in the right corner.
That looked like being the decisive score, but late Exeter pressure told as Keast forced his way over from a ruck.
Bristol director of rugby Pat Lam: “Exeter played well and we fell behind, but we got back into the game and should have closed it out.
“We will look pretty closely about why we didn’t finish things off. There were a couple of system errors, and they took their tries well and suddenly you are 15-3 down.
“We showed that when we got a chance to play our game we can be dangerous, but it was disappointing at the end.
“Every game I have been involved in against Exeter has been a one-score game. We will take the (losing bonus) point and we now have another tough game at Sale.”
Exeter director of rugby Rob Baxter: “Tonight showed that the players have got a really good understanding about how to win a game of rugby.
“We turned up and were physical, we turned up and worked hard. That allowed us to hang in the game, and we converted our opportunity at the end.
“To stay in the fight and come through it, I can’t credit the players enough.”
Bristol Bears: Piutau; Morahan, Radradra, O’Conor, Purdy; Sheedy, Randall; Lahiff, Byrne, Sinckler, Holmes, Attwood, Luatua (capt), Thomas, Hughes.
Replacements:Thacker, Woolmore, Afoa, Joyce, Earl, Uren, Lloyd, Leiua.
Exeter Chiefs: Hodge; O’Flaherty, Dollman, Hendrickson, Woodburn; Steenson, Hidalgo-Clyne, Hepburn, Yeandle (capt), Francis, Dennis, S Skinner, Kirsten, Armand, Lonsdale.
Replacements: Innard, Keast, Street, Witty, Capstick, Snow, H Skinner, Wyatt.