Chiefs 28 Bath 14
Exeter Chiefs 28
Mark Stevens at Sandy Park
It’s been a long, hot summer, but Exeter Chiefs marked their return to competitive action, producing an impressive display in their seasonal opener against Bath in this season’s Premiership Rugby Cup.
After weeks and weeks of pre-season toil, extended somewhat this year due to the Rugby World Cup, the Chiefs showed they were quickly up to speed with proceedings, running in four tries to ensure them of the perfect start.
Up against a strong first half wind, Rob Baxter’s side produced a miserly defensive show - particularly during the opening quarter - before hitting their rivals with tries from debutant Tom Wyatt, Tom Hendrickson and Olly Woodburn, all of which were converted by the ever-reliable Gareth Steenson.
Bath were much improved after the break, pulling back converted tries through Levi Davis and Chris Cook, but it was not enough to deny the Chiefs, who wrapped up the bonus point in the final ten minutes with a debut score for Barrie Karea.
With six players away at the World Cup, plus Baxter opting to give many of his perceived frontline stars an extra week’s break, it was a somewhat youthful Chiefs line-up that took to the field.
Centre Wyatt was one of four debutants in the starting line-up alongside Jannes Kirsten, Stan South and Rus Tuima, but there was also a sprinkling of experienced heads within the ranks, courtesy of skipper Steenson, James Short and former Bath winger Woodburn.
Like the Chiefs, Bath – now under the stewardship of Exeter-born Director of Rugby, Stuart Hooper – also took the opportunity to run the rule over a large nucleus of their younger squad members.
Early doors, though, they had to soak up heavy Chiefs pressure as the home side flew out of the traps. The Exeter pack made significant inroads into the Bath 22 with some powerful carries, but just as they looked primed to strike, flanker Josh Caulfield spilled the ball with the try-line in sight.
It was a let-off for the visitors, who have repelled the early Exeter raid, then set about showing some attacking endeavour of their own. Half-backs Chris Cook and Alex Davies were often at the heart of their good work, but they were met with a stubborn Chiefs defensive wall.
With the first quarter all but up, the Chiefs finally broke the deadlock when a line-out move off the front from Tuima allowed Sam Maunder to link cleverly with Woodburn, who in turn fed Tom Hendrickson, who drew in the cover before sending Wyatt over for the easiest of scores.
Bath had the chance to level almost immediately when they fashioned a good chance out wide on the right for Davis, but the Bath speedster could not collect the final pass, knocking on with just five metres to go.
That would be the closest Hooper’s side would get to scoring in the opening period, which the Chiefs finished firmly on the front foot.
Centre Hendrickson claimed their second of the afternoon, charging through the heart of the Bath midfield with a trademark run that allowed him to touch down by the posts.
Steenson converted that score – and Exeter’s third – which arrived just before the interval when Maunder and Hendrickson combined with a set move that allowed Woodburn to collect on the inside and race in unopposed.
HALF TIME EXETER CHIEFS 21 BATH RUGBY 0
Up against not only the scoreline – but also the conditions – Bath needed to summon a rapid response on the restart. Hooper introduced some fresh stock during the break and from the first scrum of the half, it looked like the visitors suddenly had a bit about them.
They built some concerted early pressure, which was eventually rewarded on 48 minutes when the lively Davis shrugged off the attentions of Short, before stepping inside of Bodilly and over the line for their opening try, which was converted by Davies.
The score ignited the visitors, who continued to press forward in numbers. The Chiefs were doing their best to hold their counterparts at bay, but just past the hour mark they struck for a second time, Cook the beneficiary on this occasion as he pounced on another missed tackle to score by the sticks.
From being a position of comfort, the Chiefs were now feeling some concerted heat. Both sides rang the changes with Baxter adding another five debutants to the Exeter list in the final quarter.
And it was two of those fresh faces who combined for the all-important bonus point score, Joe Snow picking up from the base of the scrum, linking with Bodilly, before shipping a simple offload to Karea who was able to gallop in at the North End for a maiden try.
Steenson duly converted the kick to put the seal on an important victory for the Chiefs, who must now ready themselves for a trip into the Tigers Den, where Leicester lie in wait this coming Friday.
Exeter Chiefs: M Bodilly; O Woodburn, T Wyatt (B Karea 65), T Hendrickson, J Short (H Skinner 63); G Steenson (capt), S Maunder (J Snow 58); B Keast (D Southworth 68), J Innard (J Poole 74), M Street (A Petch 60); J Kirsten, S South (C Teague 74); J Caulfield, J McRae, R Tuima (L Pearson 60).
Tries - Wyatt, Hendrickson, Woodburn, Karea; Conversions - Steenson (4)
Bath: T De Glanville; L Davis, J Willison (A Brew 53), M Ojomoh, G Hamer-Webb; A Davies (G Worboys 74), C Cook (O Fox 72); W Vaughan (A Cordwell h/t), J Walker (capt, R Batty h/t), S Nixon (S Elrick 74); L Douglas, R Davies; J Davies, M Reid (E Stooke 27), N Merigan. Replacement (not used): T Jeanes.
Tries - L Davis, Cook; Conversions - A Davies (2)
Referee: A Leal