Bristol consolidate Premiership lead as Exeter bounce back

London (AFP) –


English Premiership leaders Bristol retained their 12-point advantage at the summit going into next weekend's clash with second-placed Exeter with a scintillating attacking display to beat Newcastle 34-17 at Kingston Park on Saturday.

Max Malins' brace was added to by tries from Jake Heenan, Luke Morahan and Ben Earl as Pat Lam's side overcame a slow start to inflict a fifth straight defeat on Newcastle.

"To come up here and get five points in the context of this season is absolutely massive," said Bristol director of rugby Pat Lam.

"The first 20 minutes wasn't what we are about and we lost a little bit of focus.

"After that, we showed what we can do when we have our systems in place and understand the patterns that we have."

Exeter responded to their Champions Cup exit last weekend by bouncing back in style to thrash Wasps 43-13 at Sandy Park.

The Chiefs' hopes of a successful European title defence were ended by four-time tournament winners Leinster.

Back-to-back Premiership crowns are now Exeter's sole focus, and they consolidated second place with 33 unanswered second-half points.

Scotland captain Stuart Hogg crossed twice, while Ollie Devoto, Jonny Hill, Facundo Cordero, Joe Simmonds and Tomas Francis also scored tries, with Simmonds kicking four conversions.

"To mentally come back within a week is a tough ask," said Exeter head coach Ali Hepher.

"There has been a lot of debriefing and analysing, and we have probably gone through that (Leinster) game as much as any game in the past, but equally on Wednesday we needed to draw a line under it and shift on."

Sale and Harlequins were also winners on Saturday to remain in the top four.

The Sharks overcame a first-half red card for Rob du Preez to edge out Gloucester 25-22.

Du Preez was sent off in the 26th minute with Sale leading 12-5 through tries from Faf de Klerk and Arron Reed.

Jonny May had responded for the Cherry and Whites prior to that incident and George Barton then added a penalty to give them a huge chance of upsetting the play-off challengers in the second period.

That seemed to be a long shot when an AJ MacGinty penalty and Marland Yarde try moved the hosts 14 points ahead, but quick-fire scores from Santiago Carreras and Willi Heinz levelled matters.

Gloucester had the momentum but it was Sale who wrestled it back to claim the win through MacGinty's penalty.

Harlequins moved into fourth with a 50-26 victory over Worcester.

Quins had the bonus point secured on the half-hour mark as they ran amok at Twickenham Stoop, inspired by half-backs Danny Care and Marcus Smith.

Will Evans crossed twice to spearhead the rout and there were also scores for Care, Smith, Andre Esterhuizen, Wilco Louw, Tyrone Green and Luke Northmore.