Bath Rugby produced a monumental physical display to secure a hard-fought 13-10 victory over last season's Gallagher Premiership finalists Exeter Chiefs.
It was an emotional start to the fixture which saw Bath Rugby remember one of their own. Academy player Max McMullen lost his life last week in a tragic accident and the Club, alongside Max’s family and a full house of supporters shared in a one-minute applause to celebrate his life and his love for this game.
Battling torrential rain and swirling winds, the conditions tested both sides in a bruising encounter at the Rec. The hosts opened the scoring after just five minutes following a Chiefs infringement at the breakdown. Rhys Priestland made no mistake from the tee to give his side the early lead. [3-0]
Chiefs hit back 10 minutes later with the first try of the game scored by Jonny Hill. Despite some resolute Bath defence, the visitors mounted phase after phase before Hill managed to break through to cross the whitewash. Joe Simmonds added the extras to put Chiefs in front on the scoreboard. [3-7]
Bath’s defensive effort was there for all to see making 60 tackles in the opening 20 minutes, whilst challenging the Chiefs defence with some clever attacking sets. However, neither side were able to capitalise on their tireless efforts until the Premiership finalists struck with five minutes to play in the half.
After being penalised for a high tackle, Simmonds added another three points to extend his side’s lead. [3-10]
The hosts remained focused and found a crucial score with the clock in the red. Concerted pressure in the 22 resulted in Tom Dunn crashing over to reduce arrears. Priestland’s kick soared through the centre of the posts to send the two teams into the break all square.
Half-time – Bath Rugby 10-10 Exeter Chiefs
The second half saw the horrendous weather conditions continue yet Bath continued to rally, as they piled on the pressure. Seven minutes into the half, Priestland took the opportunity to put his side three points in front with another successful penalty.
Some excellent game management from the fly-half saw the Blue, Black and White win the territorial battle and nullify the attacking threat of Rob Baxter’s side.
The defining moment in the game came 13 minutes from time, as Exeter looked to find a crucial score. After gathering the ball just outside his own 22, Alex Cuthbert glided past the Bath defenders and looked almost certain to dot down in the corner. Fast on his shoulder was Zach Mercer, who forced the Welsh winger into touch with the help of Freddie Burns, who had replaced the injured Jamie Roberts moments earlier.
Bath continued to show their grit and application from the preparation during the week in a game where discipline was key. With four minutes to play, the hugely impressive pack won a scrum penalty, which put Bath back into the Chiefs half. A superb break from Chris Cook from the resulting line-out saw the replacement scrum-half offload to Josh Bayliss, who put Bath on the front foot in the 22. The 14,290 crowd were quick to get behind the Blue, Black and White as they had done all the game to drive the team over the line.
With 80 seconds to play, JP Doyle signalled for a Bath penalty in front of the sticks. Sensing the close nature of the contest, captain Charlie Ewels called for the scrum. The decision paid dividends, as Bath continued to pile the pressure on the Chiefs defence. With the victory in the bag, the ball was played out to Priestland, who fired the ball into the stands for a well-deserved victory.
Full-time – Bath Rugby 13-10 Exeter Chiefs
25 October 2019
Referee: JP Doyle
Half Time score: 10-10
- Tries: Dunn (40)
- Conversions: Priestland (41)
- Penalties: Priestland (4, 55)
- Tries: Hill (14)
- Conversions: Simmonds (15)
- Penalties: Simmonds (35)