European Champions Cup: Exeter Chiefs 31-19 Ulster

Exeter's Mitch Lees in action against Ulster forwards Kieran Treadwell and Ross Kane
Exeter's Mitch Lees in action against Ulster forwards Kieran Treadwell and Ross Kane
European Champions Cup Pool Five
Exeter Chiefs (12) 31
Tries: Campagnaro 2, Waldrom 2, Penalty try Cons: Steenson 3
Ulster (12) 19
Tries: Reidy, Piutau 2 Cons: Jackson 2

Exeter ran in five tries to extinguish Ulster's hopes of Champions Cup quarter-final qualification by winning 31-19 in the Pool 5 game at Sandy Park.

Michele Campagnaro and Thomas Waldrom both crossed twice for the hosts who retain a very slim mathematical chance of making the competition's last eight.

Exeter were also awarded a late penalty try as they picked up a bonus point.

Sean Reidy's try gave Ulster an early lead while the impressive Charles Piutau touched down in each half.

Ulster-born Exeter fly-half Gareth Steenson kicked three conversions, with Paddy Jackson adding the extra points to two of his side's tries.

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Contrasting recent form

Exeter went into the game in fine form, having lost just one of their last eight Premiership matches after an indifferent start to the campaign which had seen them win just two of their first six.

Last year's Champions Cup quarter-finalists saw their hopes of progressing again this season disintegrate with three straight defeats to Clermont Auvergne, Ulster and Bordeaux-Begles, but their upturn in fortunes saw them see off Bordeaux in their fourth fixture in December.

Exeter coach Rob Baxter made seven changes from the team that drew at home to Saracens last week and his side were out to restore some pride in Europe by recording a first home win of the tournament.

In contrast, Ulster had suffered seven losses in their last 11 outings in all competitions, but that last-gasp victory over Exeter in October and another thrilling home triumph over Clermont in December kept alive their hopes of making the knockout stages.

Les Kiss' side may now be the only Irish province not to make the quarter-finals as Leinster and Munster have already assured their passage and Connacht are well placed to join them.

Stuart McCloskey makes a line break which culminates in Sean Reidy's early try for Ulster
Stuart McCloskey makes a line break which culminates in Sean Reidy's early try for Ulster

Honours even at half-time

Ulster got off to a flying start when Stuart McCloskey burst through the hosts' defence and offloaded to flanker Reidy who dived over for a third-minute try.

The home side responded and Italian centre Campagnaro produced a clinical finish on the left wing to end a flowing, pacey move by his side midway through the half.

Number eight Thomas Waldrom then rumbled over for his eighth try in eight Champions Cup games on the half-hour mark to nudge the Chiefs in front.

Piutau helped restore parity with an inspired moment of genius, showing a clean pair of heels to the home side's defence and dancing through several attempted tackles to score his first try.

Exeter on top after the break

Exeter dominated territory and possession after the break but Ulster defended stoutly as their opponents laid siege on their line until Waldrom went over in the 50th minute.

Campagnaro touched down in the corner after an exquisite move involving Phil Dollman and Jack Nowell to put 12 points between the sides but Piutau ran behind the posts to score on the hour after collecting Jackson's well-executed cross-kick.

Ulster scrum-half Dave Shanahan, making his first senior appearance, then just failed to get on the end of a clever Jackson kick into space as the visitors pressed for a fourth try,

The outcome was sealed when Jackson was yellow-carded in the closing minutes for a deliberate knock-on with three Exeter players waiting to score outside him, and referee Romain Poite awarded a penalty try.

Ulster, who have now failed to make the quarter-finals for three seasons in a row, host Bordeaux in their final pool match next weekend, while Exeter travel to face Clermont, who have already qualified as group winners.

What they said

Ulster Director of Rugby Les Kiss on BT Sport: "We're disappointed in the dressing-room at the moment. It's not good enough to keep saying 'we'll learn and get out and do the job next time'.

"We've got to have players who are going to put their hands up and make a difference in terms of their play on a weekly basis and be more consistent.

"I've been in the dressing-room and the boys were quite frank with each other about the disappointment of not being able to do the deal."

Exeter: Dollman; Nowell, Campagnaro, Whitten, Woodburn; Steenson (capt), Lewis; Moon, Cowan-Dickie, Holmes, Lees, Hill, Johnson, Armand, Waldrom

Replacements: Yeandle, Low, Williams, Dennis, Horstmann, Townsend, Simmonds, Devoto

Ulster: Ludik; Piutau, L Marshall, McCloskey, Trimble (capt), Jackson, Shanahan; Black, Best, Kane; Treadwell, Browne; Henderson, Henry, Reidy.

Replacements: Andrew, Warwick, Simpson, van der Merwe, Ross, P Marshall, Herron, Stockdale.

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