Sports Team reporter Freddie Turner was at Sandy Park on Saturday to witness another narrow defeat for Exeter Chiefs, this time to fellow West Country side Bath.
Exeter Chiefs were unable to end their hoodoo over Bath, suffering a narrow 27-23 defeat in front of a full house at Sandy Park. Despite an impressive performance in a very even game, Bath maintained their unbeaten record over their West Country rivals, which now spans an incredible twenty six years!
A narrow half-time lead had given the Chiefs hope but two second half tries from Kyle Eastmond and Nick Abendanon gave Bath the win and handed the Chiefs their fifth consecutive Aviva Premiership defeat.
The early exchanges were very even, with both teams trading blows and laying down the gauntlet for a physical encounter. Exeter enjoyed some early dominance at the scrum, with their huge Maori tighthead Hoani Tui winning an early penalty. A few phases later they won a penalty in front of the newly erected posts which Gareth Steenson duly converted.
However, Bath hit straight back after the kick off, with a cheap penalty allowing George Ford to level the scores at 3-3. Exeter began to dominate the next passage of play, helped by three steals at Bath’s lineout which allowed for some continued phases of possession. They were nearly in for the first score of the game, after an intelligent chip from scrum half Dave Lewis but Bath full back Anthony Watson showed great pace to scamper across and narrowly gather the ball just in front of his own line.
Bath’s defence remained solid and against the run of play, it was the visitors who scored the first try of the game. Stocky centre Kyle Eastmond ran a great line and was able to beat the gain line before offloading to young Olly Devoto who showed magical feet to beat two Exeter defenders, before dashing around the full back and scoring under the posts for a superb try.
After a successful conversion, Bath appeared buoyant, enjoying sustained possession for the first time. Devoto once again showcased his ability with a majestic ‘show and go’, giving him space to run deep into the Chiefs 22. However, a great tackle from full back Luke Arscott led to a turnover and Chiefs counter attacked superbly with a great clearance kick and chase. This shift in momentum led to a penalty which allowed Steenson to reduce the arrears to 10-6.
With half time approaching, Exeter’s unrelenting dominance at the line out once again gave them control and they were able to win another kickable penalty. However Captain Dean Mumm gambled and chose to kick for the corner. After another successful line out, a rolling maul formed. Bath were able to stop the initial onslaught with a big counter drive but Chiefs flanker Dave White scampered around the outside and just managed to touch the ball down for a huge try on the stroke of half time.
As the metronomic Steenson converted, the whistle blew, giving the Chiefs a narrow 13-10 advantage at the break. This was a fair reflection on an even half which Chiefs had dominated up front but had showcased Bath’s greater levels of cutting edge in the backline.
Exeter were able to extend their lead at the start of the second half after another penalty at the scrum allowed Steenson to make it 16-10. This lead didn’t last for long however, as once again Bath’s impressive backline came to the forefront. From their own 22, they spread it wide with Eastmond combining well with Watson, putting the speedster into a small gap which he exploited expertly.
Quick ball retention allowed Bath to build pressure in the Chiefs half before the impressive Eastmond ran a great line and all too easily cut through the Exeter defence to go under the posts. Bath were back ahead at 17-16 and were further boosted by the arrival of international experience on the pitch in the form of Peter Stringer and Nick Abendanon.
Clichés aside, the next score was always going to be pivotal and unfortunately for the Chiefs some more brilliance from the Bath backline tipped the game further in their favour. Narrow defence from Exeter, gave Bath space out wide and some fluid hands put the fresh legged Abendanon in a huge gap.
He showed a great turn of pace before a fantastic chip over the last line of Exeter’s defence which with an outstretched hand he was just able to reach and ground the ball for superb solo effort. Ford maintained his 100% record from the tee and gave Bath a pivotal eight point lead.
Chiefs brought on former EURFC member Henry Slade at 12 to add some much needed creativity to the backline, and this had the desired effect with their attackers finally starting to find gaps. A big carry from Mumm drew defenders, allowing space in the backline which centre Ian Whitten exploited, using a dummy switch to unlock the Bath defence and score Chiefs’ second try of the game.
The deficit was now one point and Chiefs applied the pressure in a bid to avoid consecutive one point defeats. The ball was now camped in Bath’s 22 but Exeter couldn’t overcome Bath’s stoic defence, with winger Tom James being thwarted metres from the line. Eventually, Bath were able to turn over the ball and ease the pressure.
With time running out, Exeter gave away a penalty whilst desperately trying to retrieve the ball. With only a few seconds left on the clock, the game was over and Ford once again struck the ball beautifully to make the final score 27-23.
Chiefs will once again feel aggrieved for losing another tight game but a greater level of class in the Bath backline ultimately meant they had looked more threatening throughout the game. Chiefs will be hoping for a rapid revival of their league form, with the chance of a top six finish fading fast. However, this will be a very difficult ask, as they are next in action this weekend away at league leaders Saracens.bookmark me