MATCH SUMMARY – BATH RUGBY 16-23 EXETER CHIEFS
Bath Rugby suffered a heart-breaking loss as Exeter Chiefs scored late to steal victory from the hosts.
A performance with a lot of heart and defensive grit, the Blue, Black and Whites crossed for the opening try on 20 minutes through Miles Reid.
Orlando Bailey and Henry Slade traded penalties to make it 10-6 at the break before an early second-half try for Josh Iosefa-Scott to put Chiefs ahead.
Bailey’s boot turned the scoreline around once more but Sam Simmonds broke Bath hearts with a 77th-minute try with his brother Joe sealing the result via the tee.
Ben Spencer made his long-awaited return to the Bath Rugby starting XV. The return of his on-field leadership coincided with a quarter of players available following international duty. Charlie Ewels returned to captain the side and fellow England forwards Will Stuart and Sam Underhill were also named at tighthead prop and openside flanker, respectively.
Twice capped international Josh Bayliss combined with Underhill and Miles Reid in the back row. Elsewhere in the pack, Lewis Boyce returned from a short-term injury with Tom Dunn and Josh McNally retaining starting Premiership roles.
Spencer was joined at half-back by Bailey while Max Ojomoh and Jonathan Joseph maintained their partnership in the midfield. Tom de Glanville was another to have recovered from injury to start in a back three alongside Will Muir and Semesa Rokoduguni.
Exeter brought a full-strength side to the Rec to compete for Round 9 under Friday night lights.
Bath Rugby: 15 Tom de Glanville, 14 Semesa Rokoduguni, 13 Jonathon Joseph, 12 Max Ojomoh, 11 Will Muir, 10 Orlando Bailey, 9 Ben Spencer; 1 Lewis Boyce, 2 Tom Dunn, 3 Will Stuart, 4 Josh McNally, 5 Charlie Ewels ©, 6 Miles Reid, 7 Sam Underhill, 8 Josh Bayliss
Replacements: 16 Jacques du Toit, 17 Will Vaughan, 18 D’Arcy Rae, 19 Will Spencer, 20 Tom Ellis, 21 Joe Simpson, 22 Danny Cipriani, 23 Ruaridh McConnochie
Exeter Chiefs: 15 Stuart Hogg, 14 Jack Nowell, 13. Henry Slade, 12 Ian Whitten, 11 Tom O’Flaherty, 10 Harvey Skinner, 9 Jack Maunder; 1 Alec Hepburn, 2 Jack Yeandle ©, 3 Josh Isoefa-Scott, 4 Sam Skinner, 5 Don Armand, 6 Dave Ewers, 7 Jannes Kirsten, 8 Sam Simmonds
Replacements: 16 Jack Innard, 17 Ben Moon, 18 Harry Williams, 19 Rus Tuima, 20 Richard Capstick, 21 Sam Maunder, 22 Joe Simmonds, 23 Tom Hendrickson
From minute one, it was all systems go for Bath as Muir retrieved possession from the kick-off and his grubber almost saw him sneak into the corner.
Front row pressure at scrum then led to Bailey’s first successful strike of the evening and a relentless attitude in defence thwarted any early opportunities for Chiefs on the front foot.
Slade did level proceedings on nine minutes before a further show of defensive brutality from Reid and Ewels sent Exeter backwards at a canter.
There seemed to be turnover after turnover for the hosts. Semesa Rokoduguni and Tom Dunn were heavily involved in disrupting away bursts and Tom de Glanville was superb under any high ball that came his way.
Bath’s defence aided their progression up the pitch for a deserved opening try. A fantastic scrum led by the front row forced their opposite men to pop up and with a penalty earned, they kicked to the corner much to the enjoyment of the crowd.
Dunn’s throw five metres out was well marshalled by Ewels in the air and Reid was the beneficiary of a fast, rolling maul. Bailey converted with aplomb.
Then a barrage of carries came from Exeter as they searched for an immediate response. What they found was an incredibly connected and united defensive unit who put their bodies on the line to thwart every rampaging effort to breach the Bath line.
Exeter did close the gap with a successful Slade penalty, however Bath looked the most threatening going into the break with Pol Roger Performance of the Match Spencer causing havoc with jinking runs.
One in particular had the fans out of their seats as he raced down the right and released de Glanville out the back door. The full-back chipped and chased but was pushed in the back, and quite unfortunate not to get a call from the referee.
There was one last moment of the half where Chiefs could have gone into the interval in front. Using their driving maul from the line-out, a weapon which has been so key over the years, they attempted to march to the whitewash but their access was denied by a stubborn Bath pack.
As expected, Exeter came out all guns blazing in the second half and after extensive pressure, dotted down in the corner with Iosefa-Scott credited with the score.
In response, Rokoduguni and Muir each got their hands on the ball as Bath moved it coast to coast, exciting the vociferous crowd. Chiefs struggled to contain the high intensity pressure they were under and conceded a penalty which Bailey duly slotted.
Ojomoh’s delightful chip bounced into Jonathan Joseph’s hands to move Bath forward once more and Bailey’s similar dink almost found the centre again but Exeter managed to mop up.
Bath ramped up the attacking pressure and Bailey edged them into the lead from the tee moments after a kick almost released Ojomoh in the corner.
Ahead by three in the closing stages, Exeter rallied in hope of turning the match on its head once more and unbelievable line-out work prevented them advancing. But with a few minutes remaining, the Chiefs eventually broke Bath’s resilience as Sam Simmonds picked from the base of a scrum to crash under the posts.
Bath’s attempts to immediately go up the other end and turn the scoreboard in their favour ended with Exeter winning a breakdown penalty which Joe Simmonds kicked to end the game 23-16 in the visitors’ favour.
A massive improvement in Bath’s all-round game and a losing bonus point and a huge amount of pride, though the heartbreak felt in the squad and home crowd is certainly mutual.
26 November 2021
Referee: Matthew Carley
Half Time score: 10-6
- Tries: Reid (19)
- Conversions: Bailey (21)
- Penalties: Bailey (2, 47, 64)
- Tries: Iosefa-Scott (42), Simmonds (76)
- Conversions: Slade (43), Simmonds (77)
- Penalties: Slade (8, 28), Simmonds (80)