2 January 2013, 8:44am
Following the pre-Christmas defeat at home to Saracens, changes to the team to face Exeter were made, with the pairing of Matt Banahan - following his return from suspension - and Kyle Eastmond at 12 and 13 respectively. Agulla switched to 14 with Tom Biggs at 11. Dave Attwood, returning to the starting line-up, was partnered with Ryan Caldwell, who is looking stronger by the week following a lengthy absence due to injury. Ollie Devoto started at fullback, with the coaches no doubt seeking to capitalise on his booming kicks out of hand as well as his ability to run through tight defences.
Despite the predicted torrential rain, the journey to the Exeter was clear, as were the clouds above a packed Sandy Park crowd, full to capacity at 10,700. The first 10 minutes saw the game played in the Bath half as Exeter played percentage rugby with quality kicking at angles toward the touch line, combined with deep kicks into the bath half, putting early pressure on the shoulders of young Ollie Devoto, who grew in confidence as the game progressed.
An early penalty opportunity gave Gareth Steenson the chance to give Exeter an early lead in the first quarter, giving the local supporters belief that finally The Chiefs could get their first ever win over Bath in the Premiership. However the lead was not set to last long. A Bath scrum 15 metres out was dominated by the Paul James, Lee Mears and David Wilson combination which allowed quick ball for Michael Claassens to release the backs, with the ball finding its way to Donald who ran between a tight gap of two defenders. Before being tackled, Donald was able to release the ball to Claassens who dived up into the air and stretched out his arms to avoid the corner flags and get the ball down before he went out of touch for a breath taking try. Whilst the conversion was missed, Bath were 5-3 up coming to toward the end of the first quarter.
As the conditions for the players worsened and the pitch started to look heavy, both teams finished the half with an exchange of kicking. Exeter had the upper hand and had Bath penned into our own half for long spells. A further penalty by Steenson gave Exeter a half-time lead of 6-5.
As the crowd waited in long lines for the famous Exeter hog roast rolls, the second half kicked off and the Chiefs came out firing as they again took the game to the away team. The Bath defence stood up to every challenge thrown at them and the away supporters were convinced that Exeter just could not get through our team and score a try. Despite this, Steenson, celebrating his recently extended contract, converted two more penalties to take his and Exeter's tally to 12 as the Chiefs extended their lead to seven.
Tom Heatchcote came on for Donald and the team just appeared to up their tempo as quicker ball was released to both the forwards and backs with Heathcote marshalling the team confidently. With Ben Williams coming on mid-way through the half, changes in the backs were made which resulted in Agulla playing confidently at fullback. Stuart Hooper also came on in the final minutes in order to add strength to the lineout which had been poor most of the day as Exeter capitalised on poor Bath set plays. Yet in the scrum and mauls, the Bath forwards were dominant and with the clock showing just five minutes left, Referee David Rose lost patience with some cynical Exeter defending and awarded a penalty try which was converted from under the posts by Heathcote.
Whilst Exeter felt robbed, it was the Bath team that left the field in the ascendancy and delighted to keep the unbeaten record against the Chiefs in tact.