Chiefs 42 Bath 22
Exeter Chiefs 42
Bath Rugby 22
Mark Stevens at Sandy Park
When push came to shove, Exeter Chiefs breathed new life into their play-off aspirations, swotting aside the attentions of Westcountry rivals Bath Rugby at Sandy Park.
A stomping second half showing proved crucial for Rob Baxter’s side who, with two minutes of the opening period remaining, found themselves out of sorts and firmly on the back foot at 22-7 down.
However, converted scores from Dave Ewers and Patrick Schickerling proved decisive and gave the Devonians the perfect pick-me-up as they headed to the sheds.
After that, Bath simply had no answer to the power of their hosts, who upped the ante with real aplomb to run out comfortable victors in the end.
Billy Keast, Stuart Hogg and Santiago Grondona all found their way over the whitewash to go alongside the other first half score from Jacques Vermeulen.
Exeter’s 35 points without reply was ruthless in the extreme, but was the perfect tonic for the club who must now switch their attentions to the upcoming European double-header against Munster.
The Irish province will certainly prove worthy opponents, particularly in a competition that hold dear to their hearts. However, the Chiefs know they will not be able to be so accommodating in their defensive duties as they were in this encounter.
Two tries from the returning Joe Cokanasiga, plus another from Josh Bayliss, had put the Blue, Black & Whites in a commanding position for much of the first 40 minutes at Sandy Park.
Not that it looked like it would have been that way during a bright opening for Baxter’s charges. The hosts dominated the opening exchanging, producing a lung-sapping series of attacking phases that had both sets of players gasping for oxygen come its conclusion.
Tom O’Flaherty came within a whisker of breaking the deadlock when he latched onto a pass from Sam Maunder, but somehow the Bath defence scrambled sufficiently and the chance was gone.
At the other end, Bath showed the Chiefs had it should be done, England flanker Sam Underhill providing the scoring pass off a Max Clark break for Cokanasiga to go over unopposed by the posts. Orlando Bailey converted to ensure the dream start for the visitors.
Bath’s lead, however, would prove short-lived as the hosts drew level inside two minutes. Determined approach work from the Chiefs gave them decent front foot ball, the fruits of which allowed Simmonds to drift a looped pass over the top to Vermeulen, who stomped down the touchline to cross for his side’s opening try.
Both sides were willing to attack, but the key difference was that the Chiefs were off the mark in terms of their defensive duties. Too often they were passive in their execution, allowing the visitors to glean crucial metres. It therefore came as no surprise when Bath regained the lead, Bayliss the beneficiary on this occasion as he was left unmarked out wide.
Bailey couldn’t convert that score, but when he was afforded a shot at the target just minutes later with a penalty, the young playmaker made no mistake, extending Bath’s lead to eight points.
Worse was to follow for the Chiefs as Bath edged further in front just past the half hour mark, Cokanasiga grabbing his second when, following a hefty collision with Simmonds, he made the most of the Exeter man being left dazed and confused to plod over for a third score.
Up against it, the Chiefs needed to find some kind of response. With time fast running out in the half and with Simmonds off for HIA check, it was Hogg who helped pull his side back into the contest.
Working off fast ball provided by the efforts of Olly Woodburn and O’Flaherty, the Scottish international kicked in behind the Bath defence, sparking a foot race towards the line, headed up by Schickerling. For a man who tops the scales at well over 18 stone, the young Namibian has the speed of an African antelope.
Although he was bravely halted in full charge just shy of the line, another of the home side’s prize bull, Dave Ewers, was on hand to pick up and dive over from close range.
Hogg slotted the extras to that score and Exeter’s third which arrived with virtually the last play of the half, Schickerling the scorer on this occasion as he peeled off the back of a driving maul to huge acclaim from the Sandy Park masses.
HALF TIME EXETER CHIEFS 21 BATH RUGBY 22
With little to choose between either side at the turn, the Chiefs re-emerged for the second half hell bent on looking to continue their overhaul of the scoreboard. Again, they started brightly, but it was Bath who thought they had nabbed a bonus points score within five minutes.
A hack over the top from Will Muir saw him in a race to the line with Woodburn, but following a number of checks on the big screen, it was deemed the Bath flyer had knocked on in the process of trying to dot down.
It was certainly a let-off for the Chiefs, but minutes later it would be the home side who will experience the same feeling as first O’Flaherty saw a score chalked off for obstruction by Hogg; then referee Wayne Barnes deemed them to be held up over the Bath line following a series of close-range drives.
The tide, you sensed, was beginning to turn and with the Chiefs able to throw on fresh stock from the sidelines, so they started to suck the life out of Bath’s endeavours.
Under the pump, the last thing Bath needed was to be shunted back from their own scrum just five metres from their own posts. With the resultant penalty, the Chiefs tapped from close range, this time making no mistake as Keast rumbled over for the all-important bonus point score.
It was just what the Chiefs had craved, particularly given their ever-improving efforts, but they were far from finished. Indeed, having exposed a gaping Bath wound, they now went for the jugular.
Hogg was next to cross, this time finishing off in the right-hand corner from another looped Simmonds pass. It was vintage Chiefs and was rightly welcomed by the natives who were now in full battle cry.
With Bath clearly out on their feet, the Chiefs rubbed further salt into the wounds just two minutes from time when, from another powerful shove at scrum time, replacement Grondona charged over for his second try of the season.
Job done, all that was needed was to see out the dying embers. This Exeter did with consummate ease, their efforts warmly welcomed at the final whistle with an extra cheer on hearing Gloucester had come unstuck at home to Wasps.
All in all, it was a good day at the office. Now, the Chiefs needed to follow it up with more of the same in the coming weeks.
Chiefs: S Hogg; O Woodburn (J Hodge 55), I Whitten, T Hendrickson, T O’Flaherty; J Simmonds (H Skinner 35-40), S Maunder (J Maunder 54); A Hepburn (B Keast 22), J Yeandle (capt, J Innard 60), P Schickerling (M Street 54); J Kirsten, J Gray; D Ewers (R Capstick 55). S Skinner, J Vermeulen (S Grondona 75).
Tries - Vermeulen, Ewers, Schickerling, Keast, Hogg, Grondona; Conversions - J Simmonds (4), Hogg (2)
Bath: T De Glanville (D Cipriani 45); J Cokansiga (W Butt 72), J Joseph, M Clark, W Muir; O Bailey, B Spencer (J Simpson 72); V Morozov (A Cordwell 35), T Dunn (T Doughty 59), W Stuart (D Rae 66); W Spencer (M Williams 59), C Ewels (capt); J Bayliss, S Underhill, N Hughes (E Richards 62).
Tries - Cokanasiga (2), Bayliss; Conversions - Bailey (2); Penalty - Bailey
Referee: W Barnes