Although Sandy Park was unfit to hold the annual rugby varsity this week, the league match between Exeter and Bath went ahead anyway at Topsham, where Sports Team reporter Freddie Turner witnessed an entertaining win for the Green Army.
EURFC 1’s battled to a bonus point 29-8 victory against Bath to maintain their unbeaten home record for the season and secure some all-important BUCS points. Tries from Alexander Ross, Ant Hitchcock, Will Burton and Rich Sinel meant the Green Army took maximum points from the supposed Varsity fixture.
The game began at an extremely muddy Topsham, with Exeter just thankful to get the game on following last week’s postponement versus Cardiff. It was the visitors who started brighter however, winning an early penalty inside the Exeter half, which their goal kicker expertly converted. The next few phases were cagey with both sides getting used to conditions and trading physical blows at the breakdown.
Exeter eventually managed to put together their first attack, with some free flowing hands nearly putting full back Chris Crane in for a try in the corner but he was just tackled short of the line. Bath hit back with a huge rolling maul, churning up yards and earning them great field position, however a knock on eased the pressure on the Exeter defence.
In this now end-to-end encounter it was Exeter’s chance to nearly score, after fly half Fraser Gillies flat ball found centre Dante O’Reilly on a great line which permeated the Bath defence. A great last-ditch tackle stopped him in his tracks but good ball retention allowed Exeter to chip to the corner, where winger Alexander Ross appeared to touch down for the try, only for the touch judge to call that the Bath defender had just beat him to it.
Exeter’s increased tempo was becoming apparent and the first score appeared imminent. With quick ball coming at the break down the half back combination of England student player Olly Claxton and Fraser Gillies began to dictate terms.
As the two began finding gaps for their ball carriers, Exeter began to stretch the Bath defence, who started to lose their discipline at the breakdown. This was confirmed with Bath’s hooker being put in the sin bin for cynically trying to slow down Exeter ball. From the resultant penalty Gillies kicked Exeter level at 3-3.
The home side were now dominant and hoping to make the most of their numerical advantage. They didn’t have to wait long, as a rolling maul them front foot ball, which allowed O’Reilly to find a gap and draw the last defender before putting Ross in for the first try of the game.
Bath appeared rattled and a misjudged restart went out on the full, giving Exeter a scrum on halfway. A huge Exeter shove once again gave them front foot ball and as per the first try O’Reilly beat his defender before providing a fantastic assist, this time inside to his centre partner Ant Hitchcock who ably obliged to go in under the posts.
The momentum continued with Exeter retaining possession and looking ever more impressive with ball in hand, as a rampaging run from number 8 Ben King once again gave them good field position. After a few more scintillating phases, prop Rich Sinel showed great hands in the loose to put Ross into space, who showed great composure to pass back to Will Burton to go in for a third try in under ten minutes. It was a game changing period of sustained pressure from Exeter, who now held a 24-3 lead.
As Bath returned to their full complement of fifteen the game was unfortunately halted by a serious injury to one of their props, who landed awkwardly after a huge tackle. The medical team on site did a fantastic job to take the care of the injured player, who eventually left the pitch on an ambulance some forty minutes later.
Both teams were clearly shaken by the injury and will be hoping for a speedy recovery. Once the game did get underway, both teams were unable to regain their previous intensity prior to half time, with the extremely entertaining first half ending 24-3.
The second half began and once again Bath enjoyed some early dominance, winning a kickable penalty, which they refused, instead kicking for the corner in a bid to get their first try of the game. This gamble paid off, as the line out was gathered cleanly and the rolling maul too powerful for the Exeter defence to stop. The missed conversion, however kept Exeter over two scores in front at 24-8.
As Exeter began to ring the changes and conditions grew even worse, the game began to lose its flow. Both sides were desperate for a try, with Bath looking for a way back into the game and Exeter for the fourth try bonus point. This meant they were still attempting to play expansive rugby, even if the conditions dictated otherwise.
It was Exeter who remained in charge however, with ever increasing ascendancy at the scrum and Gillies still pulling the strings at 10. Indeed consecutive line outs in the Bath 22 appeared to offer a great opportunity to score only for handling errors to cost them.
The game was then brought to life as an off the ball tussle between King and a Bath player was rudely interrupted by a charging Bath winger and the foolish behaviour was enough to earn him a spell in the sin bin.
Once again enjoying a numerical advantage, Exeter’s elusive fourth try appeared inevitable but somehow Bath fended them off. A magical run from replacement Ali Chisholm was nearly enough to beat the resolute Bath defence, as he nearly gathered his chip over the line but unfortunately just knocked on.
After persistent pressure, eventually the Bath defence wilted and a break from constant livewire Ross afforded quick ball, which was spread wide allowing prop Sinel to trundle over in the corner. The job was done and maximum points were secured.
A fantastic result and performance to match, which puts Exeter in a good position in BUCS Premier South, with a chance to move second if they beat Bristol away on Sunday. They showed great ambition to play such a high calibre of running rugby in such difficult conditions and will be hoping they can continue this form into the business end of the season.
The signs are there for this highly promising side, it is just a shame that this cracking rugby match wasn’t in front of thousands at Sandy Park.bookmark me