Bath 11 Chiefs 28
Exeter Chiefs 28
Mark Stevens at Kingsholm
The Brasso will be out again this week at Sandy Park as Exeter Chiefs added yet more silverware to the club’s trophy cabinet with victory over Bath in the Anglo-Welsh Cup.
Having won the competition in 2014 for the first time against Northampton Saints, it’s taken until now for the Chiefs to repeat the feat, even though they have been in all of the subsequent finals.
At Kingsholm, though, there was to be no denying Ricky Pellow’s side as they dominated from start to finish.Hooker Jack Innard helped himself to a first half double, Toby Salmon got another, while 13 points from fly-half Joe Simmonds ensured it was another magical day for Devon’s finest.
Bath, searching for their first trophy in 10 years, were never allowed to get going and although they scored a try through Cooper Vuna, plus two penalties from Freddie Burns, it was never enough to hurt the dominant Chiefs.
Running out for a fourth consecutive final appearance in the competition, it was a powerful blend of youth and experience that Pellow sent into battle against their Westcountry rivals. No.8 Kai Horstmann led the Devonians into battle on his 100th appearance for the club, but he had plenty of experience alongside him in the shape of Moray Low, Greg Holmes, Dave Dennis, Julian Salvi and Matt Kvesic, who was back on his old Kingsholm stomping ground.
Behind the scrum, Stu Townsend and Simmonds were entrusted to spearhead the Exeter game plan, which was quickly set into attack as the Chiefs came storming out of the traps against Todd Blackadder’s side.
Just four minutes had elapsed when Simmonds thought he had snuck over from close range after a sustained spell of pressure. Welsh referee Craig Evans chalked the effort off, but came back for an earlier penalty, which the Chiefs kicked to within 5m of the Bath line.
In a move straight off the training paddock, Kvesic took the set-piece, he fed Horstmann, who turn offloaded to Innard, who was able to step inside and over for the opening score, which Simmonds duly converted.
It was the dream start for Pellow’s side, but they were able to extend their lead yet further as Simmonds twice punished Bath for their indiscretions, landing two penalties to put his side 13 points clear after just 16 minutes.
Bath needed to summon a response of sorts and this they did just moments later when Burns slotted a penalty of his own after Devoto had been caught offside in midfield when Tom Homer had caused Exeter to scramble in defence following some nifty footwork.
The Chiefs looked to immediately get back on the offensive, again pinning their rivals back from the restart. However, as Homer looked to clear his lines, he was caught late by Townsend as he looked to clear down field. As the Bath natives roared for a card of sorts, the officials converged as one to watch a plethora of TV replays, the fruits of which deemed Townsend had done little wrong and his actions were nothing more than being fully committed to the cause.
Bath, though, were starting to find a bit of rhythm in their play and when a neat attack released Shaun Knight in a one-on-one with Cordero, the Argentinian full-back - in a massive mis-match in terms of size and power - did enough to thwart the Bath prop in full flow. The calvary, however, was close at hand and as Bath recycled wide to the left, it was Burns who offered the scoring pass to Vuna to score in the left corner.
That would be as close at Bath would get to their near neighbours in a dominant first half from the Chiefs. With just ten minutes remaining of the half, Pellow’s side extended their lead once more with two quickfire tries.
Innard claimed his second when he was driven over from another five-metre line-out, then Salmon got in on the act, driving over for a third try after the Chiefs had made the most of Horstmann charging down an attempted clearance from Burns under pressure.
At 25-8 up at the turn, it had been an excellent first 40 minutes of duty for the Devonians, The task now, however, was to maintain it again after the break
HALF TIME BATH 8 EXETER CHIEFS 25
Bath, as expected, re-emerged looking to make an early dent into the scoreline. They dominated the opening exchanges of the half, but they were met by a stubborn Exeter defensive line that was in no mood to give them any treats in this Easter encounter.
Aussie international Dennis underlined the commitment within the Chiefs ranks with one bone-crunching hit that not only propelled his Bath rival back at a rate of knots, but it also gleaned turned over ball that led to a foot race between Burns and Cordero.
Thankfully for Bath, Burns was able to cover the danger, albeit having been given a significant head start in the resultant sprint, but the early pressure had been suppressed as far as the Chiefs were concerned.
With both sides keen to glean the upper hand in terms of territory, a mini kick-fest between the rival back three ensued, before Bath finally got themselves back up and running with the first points of the half.
Having worked their way through a series of attacking phases, Holmes was too slow moving away from the ruck and as Hurrell looked to fling the ball out to his mates in the back-line, it cannoned back off the Aussie forward. Burns stepped forward to land the resultant penalty.
The Chiefs, though, were quickly back on the offensive and having been gifted a penalty o their own after Tom Ellis had come in from the side, again they went for the Bath jugular with one of their tried-and-trusted, five-metres line-out drives. Kvesic again took the ball at the front, the drive was applied, but on this occasion referee Evans deemed the Chiefs had been held up.
Now with the perfect attacking launchpad five metres out, the Exeter eight tried once again, this time from a scrum, but again they were thwarted when their rivals infringed just as the Chiefs were about to pounce.
The pressure was mounting from the ‘Men in Pink’ and having been held up again on the Bath line, they tried once more with another close range scrum. This time, though, it was Bath who got the edge in the scrum, winning a crucial penalty through the recently introduced Victor Delmas.
Bath celebrated the decision like a try, punching their air in delight, and they made the most of the let-off to propel themselves back down field. Been Obano, James Wilson and former Chief James Phillips all did their best to try and punch holes in the Exeter defence, but it was to no avail as the Chiefs held firm under some heavy bombardment.
The threat averted, the Chiefs clicked back into attack mode and used a series of scrum penalties to get themselves back down field. Another set-piece decision, this time just inside the Bath half, gave Simmonds his first shot at target in the second half and the young playmaker made no mistake, dispatching a superb kick that crept over, via the crossbar, to put his side 17 points clear with just ten minutes remaining.
With the contest effectively over, all that was left for the Chiefs to do was to run their bench. Academy youngsters Joe Snow, James Kenny and Harry Strong were all given their chance to experience the big-match atmosphere, as was Gareth Steenson, himself no stranger to the grand occasion.
One trophy in the bag, now the attentions will switch to the defence of the Premiership crown and who knows…..another day like today.
Bath: T Homer; M Banahan, W Hurrell (D Atkins 73), J Wilson, C Vuna; F Burns (R Priestland 64), C Cook (M Green 73); B Obano (L Noguera 64), N Charles (J Walker 54), S Knight (V Delmas 59); L Douglas (L Charteris 54), C Ewels (capt); T Ellis, J Bayliss (P Grant 54), J Phillips.
Try - Vuna; Penalties - Burns (2)
Chiefs: S Cordero (H Strong 73), T O’Flaherty, T Hendrickson, O Devoto (G Steenson 75), J Short; J Simmonds, S Townsend (J Snow 73); M Low (J Kenny 78), J Innard (S Malton 65), G Holmes (J Owlett 70); T Salmon, D Dennis (W Van Der Sluys 78); M Kvesic, J Salvi, K Horstmann (capt, J Freeman 65).
Tries - Innard (2), Salmon; Conversions - J Simmonds (2); Penalties - J Simmonds (3)
Referee: C Evans (WRU)