Bath Rugby finished the LV= Cup top of their pool with maximum points as they comprehensively beat Exeter Chiefs at Sandy Park 3-31, securing a home semi-final in the tournament.
Bath started the game strongly with some good phases of possession and following a period of patience and quick recycling by young scrum half Chris Cook, Bath seemed to have scored the first points of the game. A great miss pass from centre Olly Barkley found fullback Sam Vesty, who put in a neat little grubber kick for the chasing Tom Biggs. The speedy winger sprinted on to and looked to score but the downward pressure was unclear as Biggs was held back by an Exeter defending before making contact with the ball. However, after much deliberation, the TMO awarded Biggs the try. Barkley beautifully slotted a tricky conversion to give Bath the early lead. 0-7.
The opening 10 minutes were all action, as the referee once more sought the advice of the TMO following a charged down Bath clearance and Exeter chase. As Donald cleared his lines just inside the Bath 22, centre Sam Hill got in front of the kick and a footrace began between the covering Olly Woodburn and Hill, with both men attempting the touch down on the ball. Again, the TMO decision went in the away side's favour with the try being disallowed.
A piece of superb vision followed shortly after providing Bath with their second try of the game. A well weighted up and under by Barkley was picked up well by Donald who turned on the speed and charged forwards. The World Cup winner then showed his high calibre to spot an unmarked Biggs flying down the wing. A neat stab at the ball sent it bobbling diagonally across the pitch from which Biggs calmly collected and touched down over the line. 0-12.
The home side regained three points after the restart with a Bath infringement at the breakdown allowing fly half Myles Dorrian to slot his first successful kick of the evening. 3-12.
However, as Exeter seemed to be gaining some momentum, Bath snatched any confidence right away from them as a piece of flowing play in the Chiefs back line was perfectly intercepted by the flying Biggs who sprinted in a near 75 metres to score his hat trick try. Barkley struck the conversion well. 3-19.
The home side started the first half on the front foot and came at Bath with a renewed enthusiasm. A wave of relentless attacks bombarded the Bath defensive line with the away side standing resilient. Despite a penalty in favour of the attacking side, they could not break down the Bath defence.
Exeter also went a man down to add further problems as lively hooker Chris Whitehead was sent to the bin after deliberately slowing down the ball in the ruck.
Bath rang the changes as the game entered the final quarter with Josh Ovens, Nathan Catt and David Wilson replacing Francois Louw, David Flatman and Anthony Perenise respectively. These changes were shortly followed by Nick Scott and Warren Fury taking to the pitch in place of Stephen Donald and Chris Cook, Fury making his debut in Bath colours.
With fresh legs now on the pitch, a reinvigorated Bath turned up the pressure and were keeping the Chiefs stuck in their own half. Unlike Bath, Exeter were unable to soak up a period of sustained pressure and as the Blue, Black and Whites began to piece the phases together, the home defence crumbled and a sweet offload from flanker Guy Mercer to Woodburn enabled the winger to take on the remaining defender and, after an athletic step inside, the winger crossed over for Bath's forth try, securing the home advantage in the semi-finals. 3-24.
A notable replacement for Bath came with just over ten minutes left as young academy product Richard Lane came onto the field making his senior debut, as Exeter went down once more to 14 men as Bryan Rennie was sent to the sin bin for a dangerous tackle on Scott.
Bath finished the final five minutes on a high as some great counter attacking play saw Barkley stab a little chip across the field. Lane sprinted in for the try line but was deemed to be in touch by the TMO. However, frustrated with a few missed opportunities, Bath stole the defending Chief's line out and went surging forwards once more. The forwards kept the ball close and as Ovens picked up the ball from the back of the ruck, he made no mistake in slipping through a hole to cross for Bath's fifth and final try. Barkley converted 3-31