Exeter recorded an emphatic win against a lacklustre Bath side at Sandy Park in this year’s Rugby Varsity fixture. EURFC scored six unanswered tries in front of a bumper crowd at the Chiefs’ home ground.
Exeter came into the game in second place, after Hartpury College had leapfrogged them earlier in the afternoon. The Green Army knew that a win would secure the BUCS Premier South title. This was made all the more important as it meant Exeter would have a home quarter and potential semi-final on their route to BUCS gold.
Meanwhile, Bath came into the match in 4th, having previously lost narrowly to Exeter at home earlier in the month. There was to be no repeat of that close contest however, with Exeter demonstrating why they have been the number one BUCS side on the circuit so far this season.
Despite the wintry conditions, there was an electric atmosphere in the build up to kick off, with much expected following the cancellation of last year’s landmark event. An acrobatic performance from the ‘Exeter Emeralds’ warmed up the spectators enough to produce a ‘wall of noise’ upon the arrival of EURFC led out by captain Harry Ledger.
The game itself started slowly with both sides making errors, much to the derision of the large crowd. Exeter were full of running from the start and looked to make the most of some poor territorial kicking from Bath. Both sets of wingers had good early breaks but were mostly restricted by a lack of support, or good covering challenges.
A scrappy first fifteen minutes saw plenty of wayward kicking from Bath, but also some serious questions being asked of Exeter’s set piece, with line-outs being stolen and penalties being regularly conceded at scrums. Indeed, the visitors were nearly the first on the scoreboard after a penetrative line allowed Bath’s George Drury to breach the Exeter defence. However, a monumental try saving tackle and jackal combo from full back Gavin Parker earned Exeter a morale boosting penalty.
This pivotal moment, prompted a shift in momentum as Exeter then put some phases together. Loosehead Jack Owlett set about his work with some thunderous carries over the gainline, which gave Exeter front foot ball. This pressure finally told, after a great steal from second row Will Burton allowed Exeter to attack into Bath’s ‘22. Outside centre Alex Wilcockson was brought down close to the line, but managed to offload to winger Aaron Struminski who went over for the first score of the game and sent the expectant crowd into raptures.
Exeter kicked the corners well when play was back underway, with one particular Sam Waltier box kick leading to Bath’s Kristian Otto having to carry the ball into touch to avoid the oncoming Exeter chasers. Exeter won their own line out soon after and drove well. James Doe executed an excellent ‘up and under’ in behind the rushing Bath defence, which Waltier won superbly in the air before sprinting under the posts for Exeter’s 2nd try. This was converted and Exeter led 12-0 at half time.
The second half commenced and Exeter didn’t slacken their pace at all, winning an early penalty. Doe converted to stretch the lead to 15-0. Exeter were now far in the ascendancy and the third try soon followed. Parker began the break with great awareness to find space out wide, while substitute Alex Ross made light work of Bath tacklers with some brilliant side stepping. A few more quick phases eventually allowed hooker Paul Davis to find a gap and gallop in under the posts.
Now oozing with confidence, Exeter secured the bonus point fourth try on the hour mark and it was a cracker. Centre Oliver Rammage deceived his opposite man with a sublime ‘show and go’ before offloading out of the tackle to Parker, who went over in the corner for a deserved try. The score was now 27-0 and the contest was all but over.
The empathic scoreline did not flatter Exeter who looked constantly threatening in attack and monstrously resolute in defence, where they were dealing with a fair amount of traffic, though often in non-threatening positions. To a man the Green Army were heroic but forwards Burton, Ledger and Matt Eliet particularly stood out with their colossal workload. Bath seemed impotent against such a well organised defence and inevitably they grew frustrated resulting in mistakes.
The final quarter passed as a blur with Exeter’s confidence at its peak. The home side kept punching holes in the Bath defence and eventually drove over for a fifth try, with replacement Sam Skinner barging through. Bath did show some spirit at the end in a desperate bid to achieve some consolation but Exeter’s defence remained impenetrable.
Exeter then gave the crowd a fitting finale with some vintage rugby. Wilcockson and Ross combined in showcasing some scintillating pace to break from their own 22 and split the Bath defence with devastating lines. Doe was then in support to receive the inside ball and canter over for the try of the evening. He duly converted with the last kick of the game to make it a resounding 41-0 thumping.
After the game Wilcockson told Exeposé “We struggled through the first half, making more errors than usual but we can proud of the performance in the end. The crowd were huge for us and gave us that little bit extra in the second half. To put 41 points on what is a good Bath side, really bodes well for us going into the next game. Our goal all season has been to win the league and secure those two home games in the knockout stages. Having not lost at Topsham for over two years, we can now go into those matches with huge confidence.”
Meanwhile AU President Andy Higham said, “What a brilliant game that was! I just wish EURFC could play all their home games at Sandy Park. To play so well in front of well over 2000 people was fantastic.”
EURFC’s quarter final opponents are yet to be decided, with either Newcastle or Northumbria set to travel to Fortress Topsham. However, what the Green Army do now know, is that if they can keep that remarkable home record intact for two more games, they will make it to Twickenham. On this showing, you would not bet against them.
Callum Burroughs-Online Editorbookmark me