Match summary – Exeter Chiefs 42-22 Bath Rugby
Bath Rugby’s positive first half was turned around by play-off chasers Exeter Chiefs at Sandy Park.
A Joe Cokanasiga double, Josh Bayliss’ try and seven points from Orlando Bailey’s boot had the Blue, Black and White ahead at half-time.
Exeter’s first-half points came from Jacques Vermeulen, Dave Ewers and Patrick Schickerling with the latter two scores proving a killer blow ahead of the interval in the context of the match.
In the second half, Billy Keast, Stuart Hogg and Santiago Grondona dotted down for Chiefs to complete the scoring.
Neal Hatley made six changes in total for the trip to Devon but he needed to make a further two alterations close to kick-off with Tom Dunn and Will Muir replacing Jacques du Toit and Semesa Rokoduguni due to illness.
Cokanasiga was on the wing for his first start of the season and Bailey reinstated at fly-half.
In the pack, Valeriy Morozov and Will Stuart returned to the front row while Charlie Ewels captained the side from the second row.
It was confirmed Nathan Hughes would make his last dance for Bath at Sandy Park with the impactful Number 8 returning to Bristol Bears after the match.
Exeter welcomed back Jack Yeandle, Schickerling, Jannes Kirsten and Sam Skinner to their forward contingent. Scotland full-back Hogg and Tom Hendrickson were also new additions to their backline.
Exeter Chiefs: 15 Stuart Hogg, 14 Olly Woodburn, 13 Ian Whitten, 12 Tom Hendrickson, 11 Tom O’Flaherty, 10 Joe Simmonds, 9 Sam Maunder; 1 Alec Hepburn, 2 Jack Yeandle ©, 3 Patrick Schickerling, 4 Jannes Kirsten, 5 Jonny Gray, 6 Dave Ewers, 7 Sam Skinner, 8 Jacques Vermeulen
Replacements: 16 Jack Innard, 17 Billy Keast, 18 Marcus Street, 19 Richard Capstick, 20 Santiago Grondona, 21 Jack Maunder, 22 Harvey Skinner, 23 Josh Hodge
Bath Rugby: 15 Tom de Glanville, 14 Joe Cokanasiga, 13 Jonathan Joseph, 12 Max Clark, 11 Will Muir, 10 Orlando Bailey, 9 Ben Spencer; 1 Valeriy Morozov, 2 Tom Dunn, 3 Will Stuart, 4 Will Spencer, 5 Charlie Ewels ©, 6 Josh Bayliss, 7 Sam Underhill, 8 Nathan Hughes
Replacements: 16 Tom Doughty, 17 Arthur Cordwell, 18 D’Arcy Rae, 19 Mike Williams, 20 Ewan Richards, 21 Joe Simpson, 22 Danny Cipriani, 23 Will Muir
The beginning of the match set the tone for an entertaining half of rugby. Hughes and Stuart ran hard in attack while Sam Underhill was an incredible monstrous pest in defence.
Exeter managed the first line break through Whitten and Woodburn looked set to score but Cokanasiga’s excellent last-ditch tackle thwarted the wing before Jonathan Joseph’s turnover. The centre’s steal resulted in a flowing move from coast-to-coast for Bath with Muir sprinting ahead on the first of many first-half carries.
Bailey then saved a certain try with a hit on Tom O’Flaherty which ended a five-minute period where the ball was in place. A match played at unbelievable intensity.
The Blue, Black and White showed glimpses going forward as the physicality heightened. Max Clark’s grubber was collected by Cokanasiga who couldn’t quite stay in-field.
It wasn’t long before the England man had his first score of the game, and it was Clark who started the move. A spin and wriggle to free his arm, he offloaded for a charging Underhill whose composure allowed Cokanasiga a free run for a converted finish.
Chiefs replied soon after as Joe Simmonds’ looping pass out wide allowed Vermeulen to finish a two-on-one but that was to be the hosts only joy on the scoreboard until later in the half.
It was all Bath and Muir was causing havoc. His stepping ability and pace allowed him to make the hard yards and the visitors remained patient for their next shot. It came as Bayliss got his hands on the ball in the five-metre channel, sold Sam Maunder with his quick feet and dotted down in the corner.
Fly-half Bailey added a penalty moments later and Muir had another opportunity to express himself, cantering up the left. Clark then released Cokanasiga who used Simmonds as speed bump and then found himself on the end of a slick handling move to cross for his fifth try in four matches.
Exeter showed why they have been a dominant force over the years and brought themselves back to within one point before the interval.
Rob Baxter’s team picked off a Bath pass and Hogg galloped in behind. The Scotland full-back kicked to the corner and prop Schickerling gathered with Ewers following up to flop over.
The Chiefs prop went in for five points on the stroke of half-time from a trademark driving maul.
Both sides traded disallowed tries early in the second period to carry on the entertainment.
First it was Bath as Cokanasiga carried back a box kick and offloaded to send Tom de Glanville on a charge. His long pass was hacked on by Muir who in turn forced O’Flaherty to spill and when the former reached for the line, he wasn’t in control of possession.
O’Flaherty was the unfortunate player to have a try cancelled out thereafter with Hogg running a blocking line akin to the NFL to stop Cokanasiga making a tackle.
Exeter went on to put their stamp on the game. Jannes Kirsten was held up under the sticks and Tom Doughty and Ewels worked extremely hard to prevent further rushes, the latter’s chop dislodging the ball and giving Bath a chance to clear their lines from a scrum.
However, Chiefs won a penalty from the set-piece and a couple of phases later, Keast snuck in.
Bath continued to fight for everything and did move the ball around nicely but found a Chiefs unit back in their defensive groove. Kirsten in particular was a menace at the breakdown.
Defence soon turned back into attack and Exeter sucked in enough defenders for Hogg to cross in the corner. Replacement forward Grondona put extra gloss on the victory with a score late on.
2 April 2022
Referee: Wayne Barnes
Half Time score: 21-22
- Tries: Vermeulen (13), Ewers (37), Schickerling (40), Keast (64), Hogg (71), Grondona (75)
- Conversions: Simmonds (15, 64, 72, 76), Hogg (38, 42)
- Tries: Cokanasiga (11, 31), Bayliss (19)
- Conversions: Bailey (12, 32)
- Penalties: Bailey (26)