Chiefs 57 Bath 20
Exeter Chiefs 57
Mark Stevens at Sandy Park
Eddie Jones may not see the need to utilise the ever-emerging talents of Sam Simmonds, but Rob Baxter certainly will as the all-action No.8 once again delivered for the Exeter Chiefs.
Pundits the length and breadth of the country have been clamouring for the 25-year-old to at least be part of England’s plans moving forward. Quite why Jones doesn’t see fit to at least have Simmonds part and parcel of his squad remains a mystery.
However, England’s loss is certainly Exeter’s gain as the flame-haired forward produced another dazzling display as the Chiefs maintained pole position in the Gallagher Premiership with this eight-try destruction of visiting Bath.
Simmonds bagged a brace, as did former Bath flyer Olly Woodburn, whilst there were further touchdowns for Tom O’Flaherty, Jannes Kirsten, Elvis Taione and Jack Maunder as the Devonians racked up another half century score on home turf.
Just two weeks’ after putting 57 points on Northampton Saints, it was Bath’s turn to face the full force of Rob Baxter’s side who, even by their own admission, still feel there is more to come from them.
For much of this contest Bath were blown away by a savage Chiefs assault. However, they did have the odd moments of reward, Zach Mercer, Max Wright and Ruairdh McConnochie claiming a try apiece.
Having been undone at the death in the capital the week previous, Baxter saw little reason to tinker too much with his line-up for this all-Westcountry affair. The two changes he did make, both in the forwards, saw England international Harry Williams restored at tight-head, while Jonny Hill returned at lock with Sam Skinner away on international duty.
Bath, meanwhile, made five changes to their side defeated by arch rivals Bristol Bears at The Rec last Sunday. Up front, Beno Obano and Christian Judge came into the front-row, while Zac Mercer was back at No.8 with Taulupe Faletau on duty with Wales at Twickenham.
Like Faletau, new recruit Rhys Webb was also away with the Welsh squad, so it meant a promotion back into the starting ranks for former Chiefs’ favourite Will Chudley at scrum-half. The other change saw Wright come into the centre for the injured Josh Matavesi.
With personnel in place and a sell-out crowd packed into Sandy Park, it was the Chiefs – up against a stiff breeze in the first half – who started the brighter. Just six minutes had elapsed when they broke the game’s deadlock. Using advantage off a five-metre scrum, Nic White picked from the base before looping a lengthy pass to his right to O’Flaherty, who did the rest with a flying finish in the corner.
It was the ideal start for the hosts, but Bath quickly reduced the arrears when fly-half Priestland punished Williams for side entry at a ruck with a routine penalty from 25m out.
Little did they know it, it would be a rare moment of joy for the visitors in a first half that was dominated by Baxter’s side.
With the forwards laying a perfect platform for half-backs White and Joe Simmonds to work from, the hard-running of Ian Whitten and Tom Hendrickson was providing the necessary thrust for the Chiefs to run riot.
It was, however, strong busts from Jonny Hill and Dave Ewers which initiated things for Exeter’s second try of the game. They both made decent inroads before the latter fed Hendrickson, whose simple offload allowed Woodburn to cruise over for his first Premiership try of the season.
Joe Simmonds duly converted that score and then added the extras to Exeter’s next score, which came courtesy of his older sibling, Sam. Having kicked a penalty to the corner, Taione found Hill at the centre of the lineout, the Exeter forwards formed around him, after which the Chiefs No.8 broke off from the rear and snuck his way through the middle of the maul to score.
Already 19 points adrift, Bath’s afternoon was to get no better as first they lost lock Josh McNally to the cooler for a ten-minute stint following a high tackle on Taione; then Kirsten got in on the scoring act, the South African powerhouse bagging the bonus point for the Chiefs when he rumbled over from close range.
HALF TIME EXETER CHIEFS 29 BATH 3
It had been a dominant first half display from the Devonians and it took them just 90 seconds of the second half to click back into scoring mode, Sam Simmonds claiming his second of the game when he was able to canter in by the posts following great work from Alec Hepburn and Phil Dollman in the build-up.
Bath were somewhat shell-shocked at events developing in front of them, but having added some fresh stock during the interval, they enjoyed a purple patch during the third quarter.
Working their way through the phases, Mercer saw a try-scoring chance come and go when he spilled the ball just shy of the line, but when the visitors threatened again from a tap penalty, this time the No.8 made no mistake barging his way over for the score.
Any hopes of a Bath revival, though, were quickly swatted aside by the Chiefs, who having regathered possession thanks to a brilliant clutch out of the sky by Woodburn, worked their way through the phases, creating a simple pick-and-go chance that was finished off by Tongan hooker Taione.
Down 43-8 on the scoreboard, Bath could easily have thrown in the towel there and then. To their credit, they didn’t and they responded with two quickfire scores of their own. Wright bashed his way under the posts for the first, quickly followed by England international McConnochie, who made the most of a sloppy passage of play by the Chiefs to glide over unopposed.
Now within sight of a try bonus of their own, Bath suddenly had their tails up and were perky in their pursuit of further points. However, the message of ‘sort things out’ from the Chiefs coaching team had clearly got to the field and it was the home side who finished the stronger.
The sight of Jack Nowell back on a pitch for the first time since January brought about a loud cheer from all corners, but the volume levels were increased further when the Cornishman provided the scoring pass for Woodburn to claim his second of the day.
Long-serving fly-half Gareth Steenson – as he has done for countless years – plundered a sublime touchline conversion to bring up the half century, before the Irishman helped put the seal on a polished performance from the Chiefs, adding the extras to Maunder’s late try which had been carved out by some intricate build-up play from the impressive Dollman and Hendrickson.
Although Bath tried to snatch a vital fourth try in the dying embers of the match, the Chiefs were in no mood to cough up any consolation. Instead, they manfully stood firm under the pressure, ensuring they head into this latest mini-break, five clear of next-best Sale Sharks.
Exeter Chiefs: P Dollman; T O’Flaherty, I Whitten (J Nowell 59), T Hendrickson, O Woodburn; J Simmonds (capt, G Steenson 69), N White (J Maunder 51); A Hepburn (B Moon 51), E Taione (J Poole 54), H Williams (E Pieretto 69); J Kirsten (W Witty 59), J Hill; D Ewers, J Vermeulen, S Simmonds (D Armand 59).
Tries – O’Flaherty, Woodburn (2), S Simmonds (2), Kirsten, Taione, J Maunder; Conversions – J Simmonds (5), Steenson (2); Penalty – J Simmonds
Bath: T Homer; S Rokoduguni, M Wright (T De Glanville 56), J Willison, R McConnochie; R Priestland (F Burns 51), W Chudley (C Cook 73); B Obano (L Boyce 61), J Walker (T Dunn h/t), C Judge (S Nixon 51); J McNally, E Stooke; M Williams (T Ellis 61), F Louw (capt, J Bayliss h/t), Z Mercer.
Tries – Mercer, Wright, McConnochie Conversion – Burns; Penalty – Priestland
Yellow Card: McNally
Referee: L Pearce