It was a tale of two halves as Bath Rugby turned up the heat in the second half to edge out Exeter Chiefs, 26-18.
As the sun beamed down on the Recreation Ground, the stage was set for Bath's second encounter with West Country rivals, Exeter Chiefs. With the play-off spots becoming ever so close, today's match signified a massive fixture in keeping Bath's play-off ambitions alive.
Despite immediate pressure from the home side, with Michael Claassens charging down a box kick from the opposing scrum-half, Exeter were first to have an opportunity at early points. A 40 metre kick faced fly half Gareth Steenson, and he hooked the ball just left of the posts. However, moments later, he made up for the miss with a successful close range effort, taking the Chiefs ahead 0-3.
The Chiefs were also the first to cross the try line when five minutes later a spilt ball in Bath possession allowed the away side to counter. Some good vision from full-back Luke Arscott spotted a gap, and chipped and chased, beating Matt Banahan in the foot race to cross in the far left corner. Steenson missed the conversion. 0-8.
Bath began to find some cohesion in their play with just over 20 minutes gone and initiated an onslaught of phases on the Exeter try line. Spinning the ball from one side of the pitch to the other, the Blue, Black and Whites began attacking all areas of the Chiefs defence, with every player being tested. The Chiefs, unable to deal with the pressure, gave away a penalty for handling in the ruck allowing Butch James to line up the simple penalty kick to make the scores 3-8.
With just under five minutes remaining in the half, Bath again went on the attack. Exeter were deemed to have hands in the ruck, providing James with another chance to close the deficit, which he successfully converted. 6-8.
Bath turned over some crucial Chiefs possession in their own 22, finding Banahan on the wing. Blasting through the initial tackle, he kicked onwards with Nick Abendanon joining him in the chase. Abendanon pounced on the ball a metre shy of the try line but he was bundled into touch.
With huge pressure on the Chiefs defending line out, Bath forced a turnover allowing a final attack as the half was drawing to a close. Showing patience, the home side maintained possession and kept the phases going finally being rewarded for their possession. James drew his defender to pop the ball inside to Banahan to cross for a well needed try. James followed up with the conversion. 13-8.
Half Time score 13-8.
Bath showed their strength in their first phase attack scoring immediately off an attacking lineout on the half way line. The backs shipped the ball slickly through the hands, finding Banahan running on at pace. Drawing his defender, the towering England winger offloaded out the back of his hand to unleash Matt Carraro down the wing who touched down in the far right corner. 18-8.
Bath now began to really turn up the heat on the visitors, playing the majority of the first ten minutes of the second half in Exeter's half. A defending Chief's scrum experienced the might of the Bath pack and in turn gave away a penalty. James increased the advantage with another successful penalty. 21-8.
Shortly after Steenson reduced the deficit with a long range effort after Abendanon was penalised for not releasing the tackled player. 21-11.Both teams took turns in attacking their opposition resulting in a number of breakdowns. As referee Martin Fox's patience ran out, Exeter felt the sting of the yellow card as James Scaysbrook was sent to the sin bin. A man up, Bath sensed a try and powered over the line from an attacking line out, only for the ball to have been held up.
An attacking five metre scrum set the base for another attack. After numerous collapsed scrums, prop Hoani Tui saw yellow as well for Exeter. Two men down, Bath re-set the scrum, but the referee this time blew up in favour of the defending side, awarding them the penalty.
Bath's third try came from some individual pace and brilliance from young prop Nathan Catt. Receiving the offload from Josh Ovens in his own 22, Catt broke away, running a near 40 metres to then draw his opposing defenders and pop the ball to a flying Claassens who ran in the score. 26-11.
Just two minutes remained on the clock and Exeter fought back, earning themselves a try. Matt Jess received the ball flat and flopped over to get Exeter's second try. Replacement fly half Ignacio Mieres added the conversion, but it was too late for the visitors to stage any more of a comeback, and the home side secured the win and the vital four points.
Final Score 26-18.