Bath Rugby maintained their unbeaten run against the Exeter Chiefs with a 23-15 win at the Recreation Ground.
The home side opened the scoring after just three minutes with a try from Ben Williams. The centre had put in a huge hit on Jason Shoemark moments before, securing a penalty for the home side. From the resulting lineout, possession was held, and the ball spun through the hands, eventually finding Nick Abendanon who burst through. Williams was on the wing in support and crashed through the tackle of Gonzalo Camacho to go over in the corner. Fly-half Stephen Donald sent the touchline conversion sailing through the posts to give Bath a 7-0 lead.
Gareth Steenson had the chance to get the Chiefs on the score-board minutes later, only to see his penalty attempt bounce back at him off the upright.
Instead it was the home side who continued to control the early stages of the match, running the ball through the hands and working hard to find holes in the Exeter defence.
They were rewarded after 16 minutes, with Kyle Eastmond crossing in the corner. Another sparkling run from Abendanon allowed Francois Louw to bulldoze his way to the line. The flanker was felled just short, but the ball was quickly recycled by Donald. The fly-half saw the space out wide with Eastmond virtually unmarked, and looped the ball to the wing to score Bath's second try. 12-0.
Another penalty attempt was missed by Steenson before Exeter found their way onto the scoreboard, as they stretched the Bath defence to its limit, allowing prop Brett Sturgess to cross. 12-5.
Bath didn't panic and kept the majority of possession for the rest of the half, probing at the Exeter 22. Another period of attack close to the half-time whistle proved too much for the Exeter defence and they conceded a penalty at the lineout. Advantage was played but play was eventually brought back for the original penalty. Donald was straight and true with his attempt, and it gave Bath a 10 point advantage going into half-time. 15-5.
Exeter started the second half much brighter, attacking from the kick-off. Steenson managed to dissect the uprights at the fourth time of asking after 49 minutes, and the visitors' confidence was growing.
Despite the growing amount of possession Exeter were enjoying, they were finding it hard to get out of their own half, choosing to run the ball back at the home side. Turnover ball from the hosts created the third try, after some patient build up through the hands saw Louw barge his way through the Exeter defence and crash over the line, extending the lead back to 12 points with 20 minutes left to play.
And what a tense 20 minutes it turned out to be. Exeter continually tried to work their way through the Bath defence, sneaking through any gap they could find. Twice they looked to have gone over the tryline, only for the scores to be ruled out for a double movement and being held up. The pressure eventually told though, with Dan Hipkiss being shown a yellow card in the build-up to the second for slowing the ball down.
Exeter took advantage of the extra man, piling on more pressure from five metres out, and as the defence tried to hold firm a gap eventually emerged, Ignacio Mieres finding it to score. He converted his own try, taking Exeter to within seven points with 10 minutes remaining.
Given the chance to relieve the pressure, Donald dutifully did with a touch finding kick, however Hipkiss picked up a second yellow card whilst in the sin bin for trying to prevent the quick lineout, meaning Bath were forced to play the remainder of the game with 14 men.
The defence was working tirelessly to try and prevent Exeter from entering the red zone again, and when Chris Whitehead pulled Nathan Catt back off the ball, Donald wasted no time in taking the opportunity to go for goal and put three more points between the two sides as the clock counted down.
Both sides were searching for the elusive bonus point as the game drew to its close – Mieres's missed penalty for Exeter saw Bath charge back at them, but eventually the ball was lost and the game ended with no further scores.
Final score – Bath Rugby 23 – Exeter Chiefs 15