Match Report: Bath 34 Chiefs 14
After enjoying the perfect start to their Premiership Cup campaign, it was a frustrating afternoon for the Chiefs with an error strewn performance that will have Rob Baxter and his coaches looking to reset ahead of the Premiership kicking off in a week’s time.
The intensity of playing against a fully loaded Bath team saw the Chiefs on the backfoot from minute one of this fixture and the error count as a result was punishing, with the home team capitalising on the free ball to pull away with early scores.
Exeter grew into the game, but the mountain to climb proved too steep, and despite second-half tries, it was Bath who claimed the West-Country spoils.
The game got off to the perfect start for the home team, a penalty immediately conceded from kick-off setting the Bath up for an early attack. From a 5m line-out the home side went to the maul and although the Chiefs initially arrested the momentum, a secondary shunt sent Hooker Niall Annett over for the try, converted by Piers Francis
The Chiefs, were their own worst enemy in the opening stages, handing the ball back to Bath and allowing the home side easy field position. Francis knocked over another penalty, with the scores 10-0 inside the opening eight minutes.
Chiefs just couldn’t get themselves into the game, and Bath came forward relentlessly, finding space around the Chiefs flanks with Adam Leal penalising the visitors for ruck infringements as the Bath back-row competed hard.
The home team got their second of the day with a lovely move coming back down the Exeter short-side, Cokanasiga bursting into space before finding Tom De Glanville on the touchline with the athletic full-back diving into the corner.
It felt like Chiefs were looking to get all their mistakes out of the way in the opening 40. Not straights in the line-out, knock-ons on attack, the frustration on the pitch for the players was palpable, but finally with 23 minutes on the clock they sparked into some life.
Tom Cairns has looked lively across the early Premiership Cup rounds and the young nine, began to dart from the base of rucks, finding space around the edges and breaking into the Bath 22 for the first time. He found Hodge on his inside, but the final pass just wouldn’t find a Chiefs pair of hands, and the home team escaped.
Unforced errors were the story of the first-half, the Chiefs unable to hold the ball for more than a couple of phases before handing possession back to the home-side, and they took full advantage.
From a loose kick, Bath spread wide once again and a chip over the top allowed Piers Francis to score in the corner, before Will Muir rounded out the first half scoring to send the home side in at half-time with a 29 point advantage.
Half-Time: Bath Rugby 29 – 0 Exeter Chiefs
The second-half began more promisingly for the Chiefs, early pressure on the Bath line from the restart but the errors continued as did the penalties, giving the home-side an easy out anytime Exeter built pressure.
There were flashes from the Chiefs pace men, Josh Hodge breaking from deep and Tommy Wyatt finding space, but these moments were punctuated by mistakes that prevented the visitors from creating any meaningful momentum.
It took until the 66th minute for Exeter to make the breakthrough.
The visitors began to assert themselves on the match, cutting out mistakes and winning the collisions. Ethan Roots was industrious all afternoon and the young Auckland born flanker was at the spearhead of the Chiefs attack, carrying hard into Bath shoulders.
From a 5m lineout, the Chiefs went to their driving maul, backs throwing themselves in to add weight and move things forward. Replacement hooker Max Norey broke away and came within inches of the line before Josh Iosefa-Scott used the full bulk of his not inconsiderable frame to power over.
The Chiefs weren’t done yet, and finally in the final fifteen minutes the team from Devon began to string some phases together.
It was on the backs of the forwards that the changes came, with the pack carrying hard and winning metres. After pinning Bath inside their own 22, the pressure mounted until eventually the ball was spread wide to Josh Hodge, who found space and dived over.
It was never going to be enough for the team from Devon, and ultimately Bath got the last laugh, Max Ojomoh rounding out the scoring for the home team and claiming a powerful looking victory.
This will be the kick that the Chiefs needed before welcoming the defending champions Saracens to Sandy Park next weekend. Exeter will re-group in the coming days and no-doubt the intensity will be stepped up as they look to defend an impressive home record infront of a bumper crowd at Sandy Park.
Chiefs: J Hodge; I Feyi-Waboso, H Slade, J Hawkins (T Hendrickson 44), T Wyatt; H Skinner (W Haydon-Wood 74), T Cairns (N Armstrong 56); S Sio (B Keast 46), J Yeandle © (M Norey 54), E Painter (J Iosefa-Scott 46); R Tuima (M Postlethwaite 56), L Pearson, E Roots, J Vermeulen (A Davis 58), G Fisilau.
Tries: J Iosefa-Scott, J Hodge Conversions: H Slade (2)
Bath Rugby: T De Glanville; J Cokanasiga, M Ojomoh, W Butt, W Muir; P Francis (O Bailey 46), L Schreuder (B Spencer 53); J Schoeman (B Obano 44), N Annett (T Dunn 44), J Jonker (T Du Toit 44); T Hill (F Lee-Warner 63), C Ewels, M Reid ©, C Cloete (S Underhill 40), A Barbeary
Replacements: J Coetzee
Tries: N Annett, T De Glanville, P Francis, W Muir M Ojomoh Conversions: P Francis (3) Penalties: P Francis (1)
Referee: Adam Leal