Ben Da Costa, Centurions Club match reporter for Bath Rugby, reviews the hard fought 9-12 win over Exeter Chiefs at a cold and windy Sandy Park.
A second journey in a matter of weeks to Sandy Park, saw the Bath faithful turn out in their hundreds to support the boys in blue, black and white. Oh and how the vocal support from the Bath fans were rewarded, with a performance of sheer guts, determination and a will to win from Francois "Flo" Louw and his team.
In the first quarter of the match, the forwards kept a tight grip on the play and kept possession within the Chiefs half. The early Bath pressure paid off with Olly Barkley having two challenging penalty attempts that frustratingly were not capitalised on. This also coincided with a passage of play in which the forwards broke the Exeter line, the ball being recycled by Olly who threw the ball out wide to the touchline onto Bath speed king, Tom Biggs, who darted to the touchline in front of the main stand for a classic try.....or not. Referee David Rose blew up for a forward pass, much to the frustration of Bath support.
The Bath defence never looked in danger of conceding too much territory never mind a try. Coach Brad Davis must have been delighted with the discipline, focus and determination of the team until the last five minutes of the half, when the discipline was called into question with two somewhat harsh penalties at the breakdown being awarded.
The two penalties by Exeter's Mieres in the last five minutes, with the second going in off the post gave the Chiefs a hard earned 6-0 lead at the break. The score line did not reflect what was one of the team's best opening halves for several weeks.
The second half commenced following a dramatic fall in the early evening temperature, with a biting wind blowing over Sandy Park. However this did not affect the play of either team.
In the third quarter of the match, following an opportunist break by "TC" Tom Heathcote, the boys in blue, black and white were just inches away from the Chiefs try line. Referee Rose spotted a knock on in close play and awarded a 5 metre scrum to the Chiefs, with which they secured ball and cleared their lines. A further passage of play saw the ball being passed through the back line with Banners returning to the wing, central to attempts to cross the gain line and exert pressure onto the Chiefs defence.
In a 13 minute spell from the 50th to the 63rd minute, Bath were awarded three penalties in which "TC" Tom Heathcote converted with great calmness and accuracy. With Mieres also kicking a penalty during this passage of play, the scores were level at 9-9 with nearly a whole quarter of the match to go.
Captain Flo, roused the boys for what proved to be an incredible performance of ball possession and retention in which both the forwards and backs began to boss and dominate play deep within the Exeter half. Time after time, Michael Claassens was getting good ball and quick ball when called for, to his team mates. The Chiefs were becoming increasingly frustrated by the dominance of the Bath team and in the 73rd minute, Exeter conceded a penalty to the right of the upright and well within the kicking distance of young "TC" Heathcote. Kicking toward the Bath supporters, the ball went sailing through the uprights and Bath were ahead with just minutes to go.
Despite, yet again losing possession on our own throw late in the game, in which Exeter were able to push back into the Bath half with the aid of a penalty, this time big Dave Attwood, stole the Chiefs line out, the ball was secured by the forwards and the game was won.
The bath team huddled together at the end of the game and with passion enjoyed the moment and reminded each other that with home games against Worcester and Leicester coming up, that this had to be a watershed moment.
In an interview after the game Bath Coach Brad Davis spoke about the great foundations of the win being the defence and forward play and the ever maturing Tom Heathcote where Davis went on to say "credit to Tom Heathcote, a young man who has an outstanding temperament".
What a match, what a win, what guts and glory.
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