The West Country rivalry between Bath Rugby and Exeter Chiefs was taken to another level this afternoon as the visitors to Sandy Park battled to a thrilling 23-27 victory.
The first points were scored by Chiefs fly-half Gareth Steenson, whose simple penalty kick made it 3-0 when Bath were found guilty of holding on in front of their posts after ten minutes of play.
Three minutes later, Chiefs went off their feet at the ruck, and Ford punished the indiscretion with a three-pointer out wide. 3-3.
With almost half an hour played, Ford shimmied outside the rush defence, then popped the ball to the oncoming Kyle Eastmond who found centre partner Ollie Devoto on his shoulder. Devoto, still with much to do, raced to touch down under the posts for his first Premiership try. Ford converted, and Bath now led 3-10.
Straight after the re-start, Devoto looked to be away once more, but Bath were turned over and Chiefs kicked the ball deep. The retreating Bath backs had little time to react, and were penalised close enough to their own posts for Steenson's kick to be a foregone conclusion. 6-10.
It was in the final minute of the first half that Chiefs got some reward for all their possession and territory, the TMO judging that Ben White's close-range effort was indeed a try. Steenson added the conversion, with the home side heading into the changing rooms 13-10 in the lead at half time.
Half-time: Exeter Chiefs 13 – Bath Rugby 10
A difficult first half at scrum time for Bath was compounded four minutes into the second act of the match, when a collapse at the set-piece went Exeter's way. Steenson converted the penalty to take Chiefs six points clear. 16-10.
The momentum had clearly been on the home team's side so far in the match, until the 54th minute, when a supremely patient Bath attack worked its way from its own 22 into the opposition's. It was Eastmond who finally touched down for Bath, but it was the entire team which had started to click, Ford's extras giving them a one-point lead. 16-17.
Almost ten minutes after that well-worked try, Ford took the ball to the defence in his own half, then set free replacement fullback Nick Abendanon. In full flight and with little space, Abendanon chipped and chased, getting a fingertip to the ball over Exeter's line for an all-important try for Bath. Ford made no mistake, and slotted the conversion. 16-24.
The eight-point gap wasn't to last, however, as Exeter themselves went through the phases after the restart, stretching Bath's defence before enabling outside centre Ian Whitten to score, which Steenson converted. 23-24.
There was a one-point difference once more, and again Exeter sought to hit the ball up in order to get precious territory from which they might get the winning kick. That was until the player in possession of the ball went unwisely for the gap between replacement centre Gavin Henson and Francois Louw. The flanker took the man and Henson stripped the ball, which Bath promptly hoofed downfield.
Abendanon had the immediate foresight to chase the kick, tackling the defender and getting to his feet to secure the penalty for holding on. Now Bath had the territorial advantage, and from the lineout in Exeter's 22 the visitors got a penalty with less than a minute on the clock. The three points from Ford's boot made it a 100% kicking effort for the talismanic fly-half and ensured it would be a match that will live long in the memory for rugby fans.
Final score: Exeter Chiefs 23-27 Bath Rugby