Christ Tshiunza was among the Exeter try scorers
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Exeter secured a home tie in the Heineken Champions Cup round of 16 after beating Castres 40-3 at Sandy Park.
The Chiefs required a bonus-point victory to guarantee a top-four finish in Pool A, and they duly delivered despite never remotely hitting top gear.
They were helped by Castres’ woeful indiscipline that saw number eight Feibyan Tukino sent off for a dangerous tackle just before half-time, while flankers Baptiste Delaporte and Mathieu Babillot were both yellow-carded, along with prop Aurelien Azar.
It meant that the visitors were briefly reduced to 12 players, yet Exeter did not secure a five-point maximum until seven minutes from time through a second penalty try.
England internationals Henry Slade, Sam Simmonds and Jack Nowell also touched down, as did Wales forward Christ Tshiunza, in addition to a first-half penalty try, with Slade kicking two conversions and Joe Simmonds one.
Castres were restricted to an early Ben Botica penalty, and while it was a game that will not live long in the memory, 2020 European champions Exeter will feel relieved to have got the job done.
Castres’ misery in top-flight European competition continues, though, as they suffered an eighth successive defeat and 20th reversal on the bounce away from home.
Exeter showed five changes for their final pool game, including starts for centre Rory O’Loughlin, prop James Kenny and Jannes Kirsten, who partnered Dafydd Jenkins in the second row.
Castres, eliminated before they arrived in Devon following three successive defeats, predictably made wholesale switches, fielding only three starting line-up survivors from last weekend’s home loss to Edinburgh.
Botica kicked Castres ahead through a 40-metre penalty and Exeter looked lethargic during the opening 15 minutes.
The Chiefs’ discipline was poor and skipper Slade twice made handling errors under little pressure as Castres made life distinctly uncomfortable.
Jack Nowell was among the try-scorers
Exeter’s scrum came under intense pressure during the opening quarter and Botica was narrowly wide with another long-range penalty attempt after the Chiefs’ latest set-piece infringement.
Wing Olly Woodburn was the one player who tested Castres’ defence early on, and Exeter finally put together a meaningful passage of play that resulted in a 26th-minute try for Slade.
Woodburn and prop Josh Iosefa-Scott made initial inroads before hooker Jack Innard cut the line and delivered a scoring pass to Slade, who converted his own try.
Exeter looked to add a second score before the interval and their cause was helped when Delaporte received a yellow card from referee Andrew Brace.
Castres then went down to 12 players during a shambolic finish to the first half from their perspective.
Tukino saw red, then from the resulting lineout, captain Babillot illegally collapsed a maul and Brace awarded a penalty try before sending the Castres skipper packing.
It meant that Castres had lost their entire starting back-row through two yellows and one red in the space of four minutes, and Exeter took a 14-3 lead into the break.
Exeter still lacked fluency, despite their numerical advantage, and it took them 13 minutes of the second period to add a third try, which arrived in trademark fashion.
Castres had no answer as the Chiefs pack drove a close-range lineout, and Simmonds touched down before Slade’s conversion took Exeter past 20 points.
Exeter struggled to stitch threatening phase-play together and it was no surprise when the bonus-point arrived from a driven maul, with Castres collecting another yellow card as Azar was sin-binned, then Nowell and Tshiunza pounced in the dying minutes.
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