Exeter Chiefs 35-6 Bath Rugby
Exeter Chiefs reached a fifth straight Premiership final as they produced a clinical performance to hammer West Country rivals Bath and set up a tilt at a historic double
Bath dominated the first 15 minutes, but Exeter took the lead as Jonny Hill crashed over from close range
After two penalties from Rhys Priestland, Exeter extended their lead to eight as Luke Cowan-Dickie crossed, and after Bath failed to take a flurry of chances on the break, Exeter tore them apart in the second half.
After Stuart Hogg went over for a well deserved score, Hill added his second before Ollie Devoto sealed victory as Exeter set up a final with Wasps, the side they beat in the 2017 Final.
Clinical Exeter Take Early Chances
Bath might well have been wondering how they found themselves eight points behind at half-time after what was a relatively even first half, but that was as close as they would get on a tough afternoon.
Exeter resisted several early Bath attacks in the first 15 minutes, with the latter’s handling errors giving the hosts reprieves at crucial moments, and any disappointment from that would have been magnified by the way they gifted Exeter their first chance.
After a 22m dropout from Chiefs was fumbled on halfway by Bath, Anthony Watson put a foot in touch fielding a deep kick and chase from Jack Maunder. Bath resisted Exeter valiantly from the resulting lineout, but the hosts managed to find a way over as the clock reached the quarterly water break.
Bath’s early endeavour finally did give them the points they deserved as Priestland sent over two penalties, but after Tom Ellis knocked on looking to gather the restart Exeter made it over again after excellent pressure and attacking phases gave Cowan-Dickie the chance to dot down at the base of the post.
Had Jonny Hill contacted with Taulupe Faletau an inch closer to the Welsh player’s head, we might have been talking about a very different result, but his careless clear out avoided the tag of reckless and he was sent to the sinbin rather than sent off.
Bath’s failure to capitalise either side of half-time, with Hill serving roughly half his period off the field in each period of the game, would prove to be fatal. Bath came within metres of their West Country rivals line on multiple occassions – the best chance seeing Will Stuart crash over having bumped into teammate Sam Underhill, before the latter was pulled up for an accidental offside – but in the last half hour, they didn’t have a sniff.
Exeter Make Second-half Statement
As Hill returned, Exeter looked assured, and Bath looked finished. And so that would be how the final half hour would pan out. Stuart Hogg would be rewarded for a kick that pinned Bath deep into the 22 as the Scot, who had an excellent game, finished a free-flowing try to take Exeter well clear.
Hill’s return really would show it was paying dividends as he himself crossed again to cap an eventful afternoon. The 26 year old barrelling over following wave after wave of Exeter pressure, with the Chiefs eventually reverting to their unstoppable pick and go game in the 22, and Hill being the man to provide the finishing blow.
It is notable that at no point did Bath give up. They continued to battle to the end, but Exeter resisted several promising attacks with relentless one-on-one hits and watertight defensive structure. They capped a tremendous performance as Joe Simmonds glided through with Bath’s defence growing increasingly tired. He was brought down just short but offloaded to Devoto, who went over, before adding the extras, as he had done all day with 5 out of 5.
And though some may have seen Chiefs’ final score, and Bath’s missed opportunity from a 5m lineout, as leading the scoreboard to reflect harshly on the game that had been played, the 35-6 scoreline that read on the scoreboard at the end of proceedings served to magnify the quality of Exeter’s attacking and defensive display against a committed and dangerous Bath outifit.
Ultimately Exeter and Wasps have made their way to the final in very different circumstances, the former taking charge of the league in the first half of the season, the latter sneaking into the play-offs and underlying their chances with 11 wins in their last 12 Premiership games, but whoever wins, the Final promises to be a cracker.