Bath 13 Chiefs 10
Exeter Chiefs 10
Mark Stevens at the Recreation Ground
Rob Baxter labelled his side’s discipline levels as ‘atrocious’ as they slipped to defeat on a miserable night at The Rec.
On a night when keeping a cool head was imperative, Exeter Chiefs were guilty of self-imploding, conceding a flurry of penalties which, in the end, came back to bite them against hosts Bath.
This was never going to be a classic Westcountry affair, given the appalling conditions which were around for the entirety of this contest.
Jonny Hill’s converted try, plus a penalty from Joe Simmonds, appeared to put the Chiefs in control of proceedings heading towards the break. However, Tom Dunn’s score on the stroke of half-time allowed Stuart Hooper’s men to head in at the turn level on the scoreboard and with the momentum they needed.
Both sides slugged it out in the mud during the second period, but it was Rhys Priestland’s second penalty that proved the key difference in the end.
Having kicked off their league campaign with a hard-fought victory over Harlequins, Baxter still felt the need to make five changes to his winning formula.Up front, Ben Moon and Dave Ewers were recalled to the ranks, whilst behind Sam Hill was another addition, along with British & Irish Lions Alex Cuthbert and Stuart Hogg.
It marked a first-ever start for full-back Hogg, who was thrust into the action at the first available moment by Baxter following Scotland’s exit from the Rugby World Cup at the hands of hosts Japan.
Bath, meanwhile, were looking for a significant response of sorts after they were thumped 43-16 by rivals Bristol Bears in their seasonal opener. They welcomed back international duo Jamie Roberts and Semesa Rokoduguni in their backline, while up front Will Stuart came into the front-row in place of Christian Judge.
Ahead of kick-off, both sides – along with the capacity crowd – paid tribute to Bath Academy youngster, Max McMullen, who had tragically passed away earlier in the week whilst on a school exchange trip to Spain.
When the action did get underway, it was Bath who made the brighter start on a miserable Westcountry night in the Roman City. Just five minutes had elapsed when Priestland kicked them in front with a penalty, this after the Chiefs were pulled up by referee JP Doyle for a no-arm tackle.
Home joy proved short-lived as it didn’t take long for Baxter’s side to click their forwards into gear. With running rugby not high on the agenda, the route one ‘down the middle’ approach from the Devonians looked the more favourable tactic to reap reward.
Ewers was held up on the line after Sam Simmonds and Sam Hill had threatened with a move off the back ofa scrum, then skipper Jack Yeandle was repelled as he looked to catch the home defence napping from a quickly-taken tap penalty.
Exeter’s pressure game was mounting by the minute and eventually it paid dividends. Sam Simmonds and Jacques Vermeulen were the latest to threaten, before Jonny Hill collected the ball five metres out and – aided by the hulking frame of Ewers – was driven over under the posts for the opening try, converted by Joe Simmonds.
The Chiefs continued to press forward in numbers with Hogg sparking into life with a trademark run from deep, but in the ensuing play, Cuthbert was adjudged to have held on in the tackle, offering compatriot Priestland a testing penalty from wide on the right flank.
Not surprisingly, the Bath playmaker struggled to land the testing kick, pulling it wide of the right post, much to the relief of those hearty souls who made up a decent allocation in the travelling Tribe.
Having survived the threat, the Chiefs bulldozed their way back down field, again setting up camp deep within the Bath 22. A line-out move appeared to have sent Sam Simmonds over for a second try, but Doyle was unmoved.When the visitors threatened again, a high tackle on Vermeulen gifted Joe Simmonds the chance to extend his side’s lead.
Well on top heading towards the interval, the Chiefs were then guilty of causing their own downfall. Cuthbert’s high tackle offered the home side a penalty, which they were able to bang well inside the Exeter 22.
Rokoduguni threatened first as the hosts tried to work the ball off the resultant line-out, then Zach Mercer caught the Chiefs napping with a tap penalty that allowed the Bath forwards to flood round in numbers towards the try-line. Baxter’s side did well initially to hold the threat at bay, but with the clock in the red, it was home hooker Dunn, who squirmed his way over for the score, converted by Priestland, to level it up at the turn.
HALF TIME BATH 10 EXETER CHIEFS 10
With the rain having somewhat eased during the break, it was the Chiefs who set the early tone on the resumption. Baxter’s side worked their way through a clever 20-phase move inside the opening two minutes, but just as they looked to have found a kink in the home rearguard, a spilled ball saw the chance come and go.
At the other end, Bath came storming back into the game and when Ewers was singled out for changing his bind at a maul, the hosts drilled the resultant kick into the corner to set-up another attacking opportunity. Mike Williams led the charge for the home side, but when Bath failed to secure the ball at the back of a ruck, the Chiefs were able to win a crucial turnover.
Although that threat was averted, a series of soft penalties conceded by the Chiefs allowed Bath to come again. Ewers was the first offender, followed by replacement Jannes Kirsten, whose high hit on Charlie Ewels allowed Priestland the easiest of chances to restore the home side’s lead.
Ill-discipline, coupled with some elementary errors, were sadly killing the Chiefs as they looked to re-establish themselves within the game. Baxter was less then amused watching from the sidelines – and with Priestland positioning the home side forward at every opportunity, the visitors needed to find a solution fast.
England international Matt Kvesic was thrown into the fray by Baxter and he quickly made an impact, instigating a forward drive that had Bath scrambling. His fellow forwards took up the charge behind him, but when it came out to the backs, Joe Simmonds was unable to find Cuthbert outside of him, throwing a loose pass forward just seven metres out.
Moments later and Cuthbert got even closer when, fielding a Chris Cook box kick deep inside his half, he set off a mazy run through the heart of the Bath defence. With defenders left clutching air, the Welshman looked destined for the left corner, only to be thwarted by a try-saving tackle from Mercer. It was a big moment in the grand scheme of things.
With the minutes ticking by at a rapid rate, so Bath did their best to slow the game down to an almost pedestrian pace. It was the last thing the Chiefs needed, but they were being forced to dig deep to summon a late bounty.
Try as they may, the Chiefs were make no real headway and in the end it was Bath, who dominated the dying embers, securing possession and starving their rivals of the ball to ensure a first win in nine matches over the Devonians.
Bath: T Homer; S Rokoduguni, M Wright, J Roberts (F Burns 62), A Brew; R Priestland, W Chudley (C Cook 26); B Obano (L Boyce 59), T Dunn (J Walker 48), W Stuart (C Judge 57); J McNally (E Stooke 28), C Ewels (capt); M Williams, T Ellis (J Bayliss 68), Z Mercer. Replacement (not used): G Hamer-Webb
Try – Dunn; Conversion – Priestland; Penalties – Priestland (2)
Chiefs: S Hogg; T O’Flaherty (T Hendrickson 1-18), I Whitten, S Hill, A Cuthbert; J Simmonds, J Maunder; B Moon (A Hepburn 53), J Yeandle (capt, E Taione 70), H Williams (M Street 66); D Dennis (J Kirsten 48), J Hill; D Ewers, J Vermeulen (M Kvesic 59), S Simmonds. Replacements (not used): S Townsend, G Steenson.
Try – J Hill; Conversion – J Simmonds; Penalty – J Simmonds
Referee: JP Doyle