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European Rugby Challenge Cup: Exeter Chiefs march on

Rob Baxter admits his side never looked back after a rapid start against La Rochelle as the Exeter Chiefs juggernaut rolled on to their eighth win in all competitions.

The bonus point was signed and sealed before the first-half whistle blew, with Kai Horstmann, Greg Bateman and Fetu'u Vainikolo both touching down as well as a penalty try.
And there was no let-up in the entertainment at Sandy Park as Tom James and Adam Hughes surged over to complete a 41-17 rout in the European Rugby Challenge Cup.
It leaves the Chiefs with a two-point advantage at the top of Pool 2 – and Baxter and company are ready for their two remaining fixtures in January.
“It was always going to be about the attitude and commitment we brought at the start of the game and we had that in spades,” said Baxter, whose side will take on Sale Sharks when Aviva Premiership Rugby returns on Friday.
“You could see that by the way we carried the ball and our line-speed in defence and our collisions were fantastic. I wasn’t expecting to have the bonus point in the bag by half-time, but I thought the guys did exceptionally well to create those opportunities and drive them home.
“As things stand it’s shaping up that our away trip to Connacht will be very important in terms of the pool. We then have Bayonne at home where we would hope and expect to do well, so it’s going to be interesting.”
In Sunday’s only fixture, London Welsh held firm before Edinburgh sped away to a 24-6 win in the second half at the Kassam Stadium.
In a tightly-contested game, Chris Elder notched a penalty either side of half time while Edinburgh scrum-half Sam Hidalgo-Clyne scored four in total.
And the Scots would find the whitewash just before the hour mark, Dougie Fife going over, before Roddy Grant added the gloss in the 77th minute.
But there was joy for Gloucester Rugby on Saturday, who made it four wins from four in European competition this season with a 32-16 bonus-point victory over Zebre.

The Cherry & Whites led 10-6 through Steve McColl's early try and the boot of James Hook before the game turned when Zebre winger David Odiete was sent off for taking out McColl in the air.

The visitors made the most of the man advantage after the interval as Henry Purdy, Charlie Sharples and Ben Morgan all crossed over to secure the bonus point.

And although the Italians grabbed two tries late on through Giovanbattista Venditt and Dries van Schalkwyk, director of rugby David Humphreys insists his side have exceeded their European targets so far.

He said: "We played so well for 60 minutes, we knew we had the bonus point, we felt we had the game won and then maybe subconsciously we relaxed and allowed Zebre to come back into it.

"One of the targets we'd set ourselves was, by this stage, to be top of the pool. We are, having got three bonus point wins. We're very much in control of getting a home quarter final."

At the Madejski, London Irish ended Cardiff Blues’ unbeaten European record this season to move to the top of their pool – in most part due to the boot of Tom Homer.

Andrew Fenby scored a double and Shane Geraghty charged down Gareth Anscombe's clearance to dot down under the posts, but Homer’s 19 points from the tee was crucial in their 34-23 win.

On Friday, Newcastle Falcons picked up a losing bonus point in France after running big-spending Stade Francais close in a 31-24 loss.
Tries from Krisnan Inu, Paul Williams, Djibril Camara and Remi Bonfils, along with a penalty try, earned the hosts a bonus-point win.

But Juan Pablo Socino, Simon Hammersley and Mark Wilson replied for the Falcons and after watching his side put on a show, director of rugby Dean Richards had plenty to be positive about.

"Stade Francais are third in the French Top 14 with a budget of 30-odd million, they strengthened their side for this game and that is a boost in the sense that they obviously respect us," said Richards, whose team suffered their first defeat in Europe this year.

"To all intents and purposes we could certainly have got a draw out of it, and maybe even a little bit more.

"There is no doubt about the fact that Stade Francais know they have been in a battle, and there were a few bruised and battered bodies out there. The boys put a huge amount of effort in, and a little more accuracy in certain areas might have made the difference."

 
SUNDAY
 
London Welsh 6 Edinburgh 24
 
London Welsh
Penalties: Elder 2
 
Edinburgh
Tries: Fife, Grant
Conversions: Tonks
Penalties: Hidalgo-Clyne 4
 
SATURDAY
 
Zebre 16 Gloucester Rugby 32

Zebre
Tries: Venditti, van Schalkwyk
Penalties: Orquera 2

Gloucester Rugby
Tries: McColl, Purdy, Sharples, Morgan
Conversions: Hook 3
Penalties: Hook, Burns

Exeter Chiefs 41 La Rochelle 17

Exeter Chiefs
Tries: Horstmann, Bateman, Vainikolo, Penalty, James, Hughes
Conversions: Sweeney 4
Penalty: Sweeney

La Rochelle
Tries: Berger, Cestaro
Conversions: Fortassin, Barraque
Penalty: Fortassin

London Irish 34 Cardiff Blues 23

London Irish
Tries: Fenby 2, Geraghty
Conversions: Homer 2
Penalties: Homer 5

Cardiff Blues
Tries: Allen, Anscombe
Conversion: Anscombe
Penalties: Anscombe 3

 
FRIDAY
 
Stade Francais 31 Newcastle Falcons 24
 
Stade Francais
Tries: Inu, Camara, Williams, Penalty, Bonfils
Conversions: M. Steyn 3

Newcastle 
Tries: Socino, Hammersley, M. Wilson
Conversions: Clegg 3
Penaltiess: Clegg

 
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