Match Report: Bath 41 – 24 Exeter Chiefs

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On a bitterly cold afternoon at The Recreation Ground, Bath proved to be just too strong in the second half for Rob Baxter’s Exeter Chiefs.

Chiefs began the first half on combative footing. On his 50th Premiership appearance for the Chiefs, Jacques Vermeulen took his signature tough carry to the line, giving a pass to Greg Fisilau for the linebreak. On his first start of the season, Stu Townsend looked set for the Bath 22 before a knock-on in the tackle thwarted Chiefs’ first chance at an attack.

It was to be the hosts who were the first on the board today. A lineout on the Chiefs’ five metre line gave them the maul option in the corner. It was a tight spin for number eight Alfie Barbeary as he avoided the touchline the maul had spun towards to crash down at the defence’s bootstraps for the first score.

The Chiefs defensive prowess continued to be tested throughout the opening quarter. Finn Russell looked for inspiration with his chips for teammates to carve a line onto, and Sam Underhill thought he had before knocking on – allowing the Chiefs to play with advantage.

A kick straight into touch from Joe Cokanasiga gave the Exeter men a lineout in Bath territory and they crept their way up to the hosts’ 22. The opposition were ready and waiting for the onslaught of phases, turning ball over and clearing to almost halfway.

Biding their time, Bath scored again on 20 minutes as they caused havoc for the Chiefs defence. Ducking and diving in the Exeter 22, Cam Redpath emerged out of the breakdown at a canter, with ball in hand, to cross for the opposition’s second score just to the right of the posts. Russell’s conversion was a simple one for the Scotsman to take to add to his side’s tally.

A penalty for playing the nine gave Chiefs an attacking platform almost immediately following the Bath score. Henry Slade struck a lovely kick into touch from the halfway line for a lineout well into Bath’s 22. With a quick take, Townsend fed ball to Joe Hawkins who gave a no-look, pop pass to his centre partner who sniped through for the score beneath the posts. Slade then converted his own score.

Straight back into the fight, Chiefs speedily made their way back up into the Bath 22. A breakdown penalty gave a scrum in front of the posts to the Exeter men in their white away kit. A second penalty from play off the scrum then afforded Slade a shot at goal to lessen the gap on the scoreboard.

With five minutes left in the first half, Bath looked to start a camp-out in the Chiefs 22. Forcing the Exeter men to make crunching tackle after crunching tackle. For every step forward they took, however, they were either met with defensive power, a chance move not being executed or a handling error in the freezing temperatures.

Chiefs were able to hold their hosts at bay for the closing minutes, heading back into the changing room just two points adrift on the scoreboard.

Half-time: Bath 12 – 10 Chiefs

Bath warmed their cold bones by coming out firing for the second half. With a scrum on the edge of their 22, Ben Spencer took the ball to himself from the base. Breaking with Cokanasiga as his supporting line, Spencer passed out to the winger who opted to go back inside to his scrum half as they reached the Chiefs 22 for the half-back to finish off the score.

Dogged work from Ethan Roots to legally work his way through the maul to get onto the ball in his own 22 was pivotal for Exeter on 50 minutes as Bath were looking set to launch their next attacking threat. A big carry off the scrum from Fisilau gave Townsend the space to clear to his 10m line.

Lewis Pearson tried his hand at a touch of football as he scampered after a Townsend grubber minutes later but as the ball went into touch, the big second rower was brought back from his case for the call of an earlier penalty at the lineout against the Chiefs men.

Bath played into the Chiefs 22 with the penalty and battered at the line for repeated phases. Chiefs were able to deal with the immediate danger, holding them up over the line however, with a penalty coming Bath’s way, Russell was able to slot the ball over the posts to top up the Bath score.

Chiefs were cheeky with their score just minutes later. With the option of a kick at goal with a breakdown penalty, Harvey Skinner confidently called for the ball to put into the corner. Working quickly off the set piece, Chiefs were into the 22. With big forward carriers as options either side of him, Townsend backed himself for the carry. Not held in the tackle, he leapt back to his feet to crash over under the posts before the opposition knew he was away. Slade quickly converted the score.

From hero to villain, Townsend was shown to the sin bin on the hour mark for cynical play when Bath broke from the halfway line to deep into Chiefs territory, looking set for another score. Russell went for the posts with the penalty but the ball bounced off the left upright back into play.

Bath took the scrum when there was a knock-on of the rebounded ball and, with a man advantage, were able to send the ball out to Cokanasiga who had clear air in front of him out on the wing. A tough kick from the touchline for the conversion from Russell then split the uprights.

On 65 minutes, Bath looked to be wanting to wrap up the encounter early. On a brace score, Barbeary broke through the centre of the ruck to run in from five metres’ range as the Chiefs defence looked on in dismay. His leap over the line was well positioned to give Russell an easy conversion.

The dam looked to be breaking defensively for Chiefs as on 69 minutes, the fresh legs of replacement Will Butt had him tracking Bath’s attacking set perfectly, making himself available for the final pass in the far corner for the hosts to score their sixth try. Russell’s successful conversion was his last act of the day as he was substituted off following the kick.

As the fog rolled back in, Chiefs reduced their field coverage to 13 men when replacement scrum half Niall Armstrong was struck down with an injury with no replacement option left.

Despite that fact – and despite the clock being in the red – Chiefs had one final say in the match. Not relinquishing the result from their grasp, they fought through the bodies in the 22, repetitive carries enable Ehren Painter to be in position to batter over for a final try. With Slade’s conversion, a tough day at The Rec came to an end for Baxter’s men.

Full-time: Bath 41 – 24 Chiefs

Bath: M Gallagher; J Cokanasiga, M Ojomoh (Butt 69’), C Redpath, W Muir; F Russell (Harris 71’), B Spencer (Carr-Smith 74’); B Obano (Schoeman 69’), T Dunn (Annett 69’), W Stuart (Griffin 69’), E Stooke, C Ewels, M Reid, S Underhill (Van Velze 69’), A Barbeary (Coetzee 74’).

Tries: Barbeary 2, Redpath, Spencer, Cokanasiga, Butt Conversions: Russell 4 Penalties: Russell

Chiefs: T Wyatt; O Woodburn (Armstrong 63’), H Slade, J Hawkins (Devoto 71’), B Hammersley; H Skinner, S Townsend (O’Loughlin 71’); N Abuladze (Hepburn 40’), J Yeandle (Norey 51’), J Iosefa-Scott (Painter 40’), D Jenkins (c) (Tuima 69’), L Pearson, E Roots, J Vermeulen, G Fisilau (Davis 71’).

Tries: Slade, Townsend, Painter Conversions: Slade 3 Penalties: Slade

Yellow card: Townsend

Referee: Tom Foley

Attendance: 14,509

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