Exeter University’s 1st XV thrashed their rivals Bath 46-8 in a one-sided South West Derby that can only be described as a Rugby Farsity. The EURFC side completely outplayed the visitors as Captain Sam Skinner led the team to yet another emphatic victory at Sandy Park. A huge crowd turned out on the cold Wednesday evening to fill the entirety of the main stand and cheer Exeter on to a big win. The team knew the importance of winning the game but also gaining the bonus point as they looked to top the South division on their road to Twickenham.
The two sides burst out of the tunnel to a tumultuous roar and standing ovation from the vociferous EURFC faithful who were already in good voice having watched a wonderful pre-match routine from Exeter University’s cheerleaders. The Bath Fly-half took up the ball on the centre spot and got things underway with a huge kick-off that the visiting forwards managed to reclaim in the air. The shaky start from Exeter didn’t last long however as a number of huge tackles forced the Bath backline into touch, back inside their own half. Scrum-half Sam Waltier made an early break off the back of the lineout gaining his team some good territory. The forwards quickly asserted their dominance in the contact area, winning a penalty in front of the posts that Fullback Gavin Parker easily slotted to make the score 3-0.
Bath responded quickly however as they regained possession after the restart and began throwing bodies at the Exeter backline. The defence held out for a solid five minutes as Bath struggled to cross the gain line and get anywhere near Exeter’s 22. Eventually, the visitors won themselves a penalty within kicking range and Bath’s Fly-half levelled the scores to 3-3.
Unphased by this, Exeter pushed back into Bath’s 22 as Oliver Claxton kicked deep from the centre spot and forced a knock-on from the Bath forwards. Gavin Parker went close to scoring off the back of the scrum but again the Exeter pack bullied the Bath defence into conceding another penalty in front of the posts. Parker added the three points to bring the score line to 6-3 but the team were visibly frustrated that they weren’t converting the territory into tries.
The opening twenty minutes continued to be extremely physical with neither side looking to shy away from big hits. Both Paul Davis and Matt Eliet were temporarily removed from the field to undergo concussion tests having made two huge tackles. With their Hooker and Flanker off the field, Exeter’s pack continued to dominate as they won a penalty on the halfway line from a solid scrum. Gavin Parker skilfully kicked for the corner and landed the ball on Bath’s five-meter line. Substitute Mike Perks threw a fantastic ball to the back of the lineout and Exeter set up the driving maul. Club captain George Beale secured the ball at the back and drove his forwards over the line to score the opening try of the derby game. With the crowd noise now at an exceedingly high level, Gavin Parker managed to keep his composure and slot the tough conversion to bring the score to 13-3.
After the celebrations of the opening try, the Exeter side’s nerves appeared to have settled as Halfbacks Waltier and Claxton began to orchestrate some impressive phases of play. Fullback Parker continued to kick his side into good areas and a second try just before the half time whistle seemed inevitable. A lovely backs move off the back of a scrum set up the Exeter forwards again to batter their way to the Bath try-line. However, it was Scrum-half Sam Waltier who managed to dart over for his team’s second score off the back of a ruck. With the successful conversion, EURFC’s 1st XV stretched their lead to 20-3 at the break.
EURFC’s 1st XV coach Keith Fleming sent the boys back out flying in the second half after an inspirational changing room team talk. Claxton kicked off deep into Bath’s half and for the next 35 minutes, the visitors would not leave their 22 except for restarts. Centres Laverick and Holdsworth continued to carry well in the backs whilst flankers Eliet and Ledger made hard yards on the crash ball. After increasing pressure from Exeter, Matt Eliet found himself held up just over the line after a good lineout move. Minutes later, Winger Ned Warne managed to get Bath’s Tighthead Prop sent off for foul play after a darting run to the corner. The deadlock was finally broken from the driving maul off the back of a lineout again as this time Number 8 Tom Lawday trundled over the line for Exeter’s third try.
With the lead now at 25-3, Exeter continued to grow in confidence with Waltier and Claxton running a series of flair attacks in the backline. Winger Alex Brown found himself tackled into touch just short of the line as his side looked for the all-important fourth try to secure the bonus point. Substitute Jacob Knight came off the bench for the final 20 minutes and made an immediate impact as he charged down a kick and almost scored in the corner. The Outside Centre eventually got a well-deserved try off the back of another maul as Waltier broke away again and drew the last man in to put Knight under the posts. Parker easily slotted the conversion to bring the score to 32-3.
Minutes later, Exeter were back again in Bath’s 22 with a great kick to touch from the Fullback. Captain Sam Skinner won the ball in the air and drove over the line to score in the corner from yet another lineout. Parker finished off another clinical attack with the two points to stretch his side’s lead still further to 39-3.
As we entered the final five minutes, Bath finally found an opportunity to spend some time in Exeter’s half after the home side conceded a scrum from the restart. A number of scrappy phases followed that eventually saw Bath score from a fifteen-man driving maul but their kicker unfortunately struck the post with his conversion. However, it would be the Exeter side that would have the last say in the game as Scrum-half Waltier set up a final try for the towering Second Row, Fred Hosking. Gavin Parker converted the easiest of kicks to leave the final score at 46-8.
After the game I spoke to man of the match Sam Waltier who acknowledged a “pretty tough first 20 minutes” and explained that “it was just a matter of keeping the tempo high and waiting until they (Bath) broke down”. He praised the “physicality and dominance of the forward pack… that let us chuck the ball around a bit in the backs”. Captain Sam Skinner echoed the sentiments of his Scrum-half, declaring that “The first 20 minutes was pretty evenly matched and it took time for us to break them down”. He also praised the crowd and “the massive atmosphere” but emphasised the importance “that we kept our cool and kept doing the same things we do week in, week out.”
The consistency of this Exeter side to keep delivering such comprehensive wins is certainly recognised by the captain but the team aren’t getting carried away just yet. They are currently in a very strong position to be potentially hosting a University side from the North Division in the BUCS semi-finals. If the 1st XV continue playing how they are, it doesn’t seem unlikely that the team could in fact make the final at Twickenham.