HEAD coach Will Croker praised the influence of Mike Pope on and off the pitch at Bournemouth after a triumphant return to his former stomping ground.

Pope graduated from Exeter University and it was the fly-half who handed out a lesson in control for Lions in their 33-18 South West Premier bonus-point win against the Devon outfit.

And Croker claimed it had been the former Cornish Pirates talent's work with the defence on the training paddock which had helped Lions to their 20th win from 21 matches.

He said: “We work on our defence a lot in training and we had a decent defence before this season but after Mike Pope came in, he brought a few changes to make us a bit more solid.

“It has worked really well and the boys have really bought into it because they throw their bodies into it time and time again.

“Some of the defence when Exeter got all the way down to the try line and we forced them back – our hard press was really good.”

Full-back Karim Lynch started his 100th game in a Lions jersey at Topsham Sports Ground but had no time to savour the occasion with Exeter taking an early lead.

After falling 3-0 behind to Harry Bazalgette's penalty goal, Bournemouth fought back with front rower Joe Tarrant dotting down after eight minutes.

Grant Hancox converted before Pope began the move which led to the second score for centre Scott Chislett six minutes later, which Hancox improved.

Bazalgette pulled back a penalty on 19 minutes before Pope set up Freddie Gleadowe for try number three. Hancox failed to add the extras.

Exeter scrum-half Aaron Bagwell was in support to score and reduced to six points the deficit at half-time with the conversion by Bazalgette.

It was Pope again who provided the spark just two minutes into the second half with a break inside the Exeter half before offloading to prop Andy Spikings.

He was tackled short of the whitewash but the ball was quickly recycled once more for Chislett to grab his second try – and the all-important bonus point – with Hancox making it 26-13.

With a minute of normal time remaining, experienced Bournemouth scrum-half Sam Hardcastle chipped over the defence and Hancox – now playing at centre due to injuries – gathered to score the fifth try.

The hosts had the final word moments later when chasing a losing bonus point. The ball was sent through the backline for right wing Luke Mehson to score, but Bazalgette could not improve.

Depending on results elsewhere, Lions could on Saturday secure the South West Premier title with victory against fifth-place Exmouth at Chapel Gate.