A gutsy display from both sides saw Bath Rugby edge an incredibly tense 21-16 encounter with Exeter Chiefs at a sold-out Rec this afternoon.
George Ford kicked all Bath's points, his accuracy with the boot proving the main difference between the two West Country sides. It was a game far removed from their previous meeting two weeks ago, with Exeter taking the game to Bath from the off.
When a Chiefs player was tackled off the ball just outside Bath's 22 with five minutes on the clock, Chiefs fly-half Gareth Steenson kicked a penalty to make it 0-3 to the visitors.
George Ford was given the opportunity less than four minutes later to level the scores after the Chiefs were deemed offside in their attempt to scramble after a loose ball - one he took well to make it 3-3.
In the 22nd minute, Chiefs fullback Luke Arscott received a long kick from Ford. Realising that it was all Bath forwards out wide, he exploited the opportunity, second row Damian Welch doing well to reach over to score in the corner. Steenson missed with his conversion attempt, but Exeter led 3-8.
After some strong showings in the scrum from Bath (which allowed Peter Stringer to give opposite number Dave Lewis a torrid time), Ford banged over a penalty with eleven minutes remaining to bring his team within two points of Exeter. 6-8 to Chiefs.
In the final minute of the first half, and just when Bath needed it most after some relentless attacking phases from Exeter, Ford showed tremendous power with the boot to drill a penalty kick over from just a metre inside the visitors' half.
Half-time: Bath Rugby 9 - Exeter Chiefs 8
Bath could have taken an easy shot at goal three minutes after the commencement of the second half, but having threatened to score immediately preceding their penalty, Ford put the ball into touch for the lineout. Unfortunately, it came to nothing when the referee awarded Exeter the scrum close to their own line after a Bath knock-on, and Chiefs sought to make the most of their reprieve.
Chiefs failed to roll away at the ruck well inside their half in the 54th minute, after some astute interlinking play by the Bath backs, and Ford kicked his fourth penalty of the evening. 12-8 to Bath.
On the hour mark, Exeter were quick to take advantage of a loose ball in Bath's half, captain Dean Mumm kicking through and showing good pace to touch down in the right-hand corner. Steenson's conversion failed after bouncing off the upright, but Chiefs now led 12-13.
After 63 minutes, Exeter wheeled the scrum under enormous pressure from the Bath pack and were penalised. The task of kicking a difficult penalty from out wide and almost from halfway was welcomed by Ford, who nailed it to edge Bath 15-13 ahead.
The successful kick seemed to re-energise the home side, and Bath upped the pace, winning ball back at the breakdown and attacking with gusto. It got them into a good enough position in Exeter territory that Ford was able to slot his second drop goal in as many weeks - and from a not inconsiderable distance. 18-13 to Bath.
Steenson got his team back to within two points after Bath were penalised at the scrum, and with the score now at 18-16, the tension at the Rec was palpable. Moments later, the Chiefs were given another penalty following a ruck infringement by Bath, but Steenson's effort was fractionally wide.
With five minutes left on the clock, Bath had a scrum inside their own 22. Under duress, they shipped the ball wide and bravely decided to run the ball rather than kick it. Replacement fullback Nick Abendanon found Matt Banahan, who evaded two defenders and made enough yards to take Bath out of their half and out of the danger zone.
It was from this well-earned position that Bath were awarded a desperately-needed penalty when Exeter were pinged for not rolling away. Ford, having done so from a similar position almost 20 minutes earlier, kicked the crucial three points. 21-16.
An extremely tense encounter was ended when Bath won a penalty in the last minute of the game. Fittingly, it was Ford who booted the ball into touch to a chorus of approval from a packed Rec.
Final Score: Bath Rugby 21 - Exeter Chiefs 16