Despite dominating many facets of a high-tempo match, Bath Rugby were unable to see off the advances of Exeter Chiefs, going down 18-6 at Sandy Park.
The 3-3 scoreline in the first half belied the compelling nature of those 40 minutes. Bath’s points came after just three minutes of play, with the visitors putting good pressure on the Chiefs from kick-off. That pressure eventually told and Chiefs infringed at the ruck, allowing Bath fly-half Gavin Henson to slot the penalty. 0-3.
Thereafter, Bath tackled themselves to a standstill. Their pack built in confidence and, try as they might, the Chiefs just couldn’t make any meaningful yards down either wing. Five minutes from half time, Bath were penalised at the ruck, and Chiefs fly-half Gareth Steenson curved the ball through the posts to bring the scores level. 3-3.
Chiefs would have been frustrated by Bath’s dogged and resolute defence in the dying minutes of the half: twice their maul was denied on the visitors’ tryline. So while the first half might have been all Exeter in attack, defensively it very much belonged to Bath.
Half time: Exeter Chiefs 3 – 3 Bath Rugby
The second half started much as the first one had begun, with another Henson three-pointer following a penalty against the home side. 3-6.
Twice in the second 40, Exeter were lucky not to have two players sin-binned for deliberate knock-ons, but it was Bath who were the architects of Chiefs’ first try in the 59th minute, when the visitors knocked on under little pressure after Chiefs had kicked deep to the corner.
A scrum became a lineout, which became a maul from which replacement Chiefs prop Carl Rimmer scored a try. Steenson converted to make it 10-6.
Henson had seen a long-range penalty attempt bounce off the crossbar, and it was these moments of bad luck that would cost Bath in the grand scheme of the match. Three minutes from time, Bath were stretched to the limit, defending for dear life on their tryline. It was another replacement prop, Moray Low, who scored Chiefs’ second try. Steenson this time failed with the conversion. 15-6.
To add insult to injury, Steenson added a further three points with time up on the clock, after Bath had tried to run the ball from their own 22.
Full time: Exeter Chiefs 18 – 6 Bath Rugby