Braves 50 Bath 35
Exeter Braves 50
Bath United 35
Mark Stevens at Sandy Park
Jack Nowell marked his return to competitive action by scoring one of the eight tries Exeter Braves put on visiting Bath United in this latest Premiership Rugby Shield match at Sandy Park.
The Cornishman was given a 40-minute run-out following summer surgery on an ankle injury, but he wasted little time in reminding the watching Chiefs coaches of his finishing prowess with a spectacular individual score.
Elsewhere, the Braves - who had kicked off their Shield campaign with a 47-24 win at Saracens Storm on Monday night - were again in quality mood, adding further tries through Michele Campagnaro, Wilhelm Van Der Sluys, Tom O’Flaherty, Dave Dennis, Joe Snow (2) and Jack Owlett.
Fly-half Sam Morley banged over four conversions and there was another for Max Bodilly who, like Nowell, is also easing himself back to fitness after an injury-plagued campaign last season.
Nowell and Bodilly were part of a powerful Braves line-up, which also included experienced stars such as Ben Moon, Dennis, Campagnaro and Sam Hill. Having missed out on Exeter’s three pre-season friendlies, all of them were desperate to make up for lost time and get some much-needed game minutes under their belts.
Bath, on the other hand, paraded a youthful outfit for their second Shield assignment of the season. England international Charlie Ewels was a notable inclusion up front, while behind Alex Davies and Ruairdh McConnochie offered the experience in the back division.
With personnel in place and a crowd of almost 2,500 in attendance, the opening exchanges were somewhat frantic as both sides tried to wrestle the early ascendancy. Handling errors and an over indulgence to try and play too much meant it was a scrappy first ten minutes.
However, it was the Braves who looked the sharper and when full-back Bodilly sliced through the visiting defence like a knife through butter, his simple offload allowed Italian centre Campagnaro to glide over for the opening try, which was converted by Morley.
And it was not long before the Braves were adding to their tally, a slick attacking move saw them shunt the ball from left to right, before hooker Jack Innard offered a simple pop pass to Van Der Sluys to power his way over in the right-hand corner.
Two tries soon became three for the hosts, whose dominant pack pushed their opponents off their own ball at a scrum, before No.8 Tom Lawday picked up at the base, he combined with Sam Maunder, who in turn fed O’Flaherty to barge his way over to make it 17-0.
It was proving one-way traffic for the Braves, who were defeated in the final of last season’s A League by Northampton. Now in sight of the bonus point, they wrapped that up just past the half-hour mark when their juggernaut pack laid the platform for Dennis to burrow over under the sticks for a converted score.
Then, as half time approached, it was the turn of Nowell to get in on the act, the England and British Lions winger adding a fifth try when he galloped in over half the field, having been released by a sumptuous offload tight on the right flank. Morley again converted, this time from the right touchline, to give the Braves a healthy advantage at the turn.
HALF TIME EXETER BRAVES 31 BATH UNITED 0
That proved Nowell’s and Moon’s last involvements as they were both replaced during the interval by James Short and Billy Keast having been given a decent work-out during the opening period.
Bath, on the other hand, had used the break to regroup. They re-emerged not only a more vibrant team, but one who were happy to throw caution to the wind and attack their dominant hosts at will.
Early pressure almost resulted in hooker Michael Van Vuuren stealing over with just two minutes played, but he was denied by some excellent cover defence from Morley and O’Flaherty.
The let-off, though, proved short-lived for the Braves as just a minute later the South African forward did find his way over the whitewash, claiming Bath’s opening points of the day when he was the finisher on the back end of a well-drilled catch-and-drive line-out.
Former Plymouth Albion back Davies converted that score and Bath’s second, again through Van Vuuren, who this time found his way over under the posts following a sustained spell of pressure from the visitors close to the Exeter try-line.
Any hopes of a Bath revival, however, were quickly doused as the Braves got themselves back into attack mode. Campagnaro - who was razor sharp in attack all afternoon - was the instigator with a darting break through the middle, he linked with Short, who in turn offloaded to Snow. Although cut down just shy of the line, the replacement scrum-half was able to crawl his way to the line for the try.
To their credit, Bath refused to lie down claiming a try double from winger Levi Davis, either side of a pick-and-go try from Exeter prop Owlett to make it 45-28 with just over five minutes of this entertaining encounter left.
Even then there was still time for two more tries, Snow claimed his second when he finished bravely in the right corner following a delightful offload from O’Flaherty, while at the other end former England Sevens star McConnochie got in on the scoring act when he latched onto a clever grubber kick in behind from Davies, who finished the contest with five conversions to his name.
Braves: M Bodilly, J Nowell (J Short h/t), M Campagnaro, S Hill, T O’Flaherty; S Morley (T Hendrickson 57), S Maunder (J Snow 52), B Moon (B Keast h/t), J Innard (E Taione 52), M Street (J Owlett 52); D Dennis (R Tuima 62), W Der Sluys; D Ewers (R Capstick 65), J Freeman (capt), T Lawday.
Tries - Campagnaro, Van Der Sluys, O’Flaherty, Dennis, Nowell, Snow (2), Owlett; Conversions - Morley (4), Bodilly
Bath United: D Atkins (W Partington 55-69); L Davis, W Butt, M Wright, R McConnochie; T De Glanville (D Allinson 55), A Davies; W Vaughan (A Cordwell 55), M Van Vuuren (T Doughty 69), K Verden (S Nixon 34); R Davies (O Cattell h/t), C Ewels; M Reid, J Bayliss (capt, J Davies 55), P Grant.
Tries - Van Vuuren (2), Davis (2), McConnochie; Conversions - Davies (5)
Referee: L Davies