Improved Bath fall to cruel defeat against Exeter Chiefs

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  • Sam Simmonds
    English rugby union footballer (b. 1994)
  • Henry Slade
    English rugby union footballer
Sam Simmonds - Improved Bath fall to cruel defeat against Exeter Chiefs - GETTY IMAGES
Sam Simmonds - Improved Bath fall to cruel defeat against Exeter Chiefs - GETTY IMAGES

Bath 16 Exeter Chiefs 23

Bath are getting closer. Before last night, one could have knocked their precision, their ability and their application but, despite languishing at the bottom of the Premiership table without a win, their persistence and passion are not in doubt.

In a mediocre match which, admittedly, was full of drama, it took a last-gasp try from England No 8 Sam Simmonds for Exeter to finally put Bath’s obduracy to bed. It was devilishly cruel for the hosts, but the resolve of these Chiefs must be admired. The visitors fought to the last to clinch a game that they did not have much right to win. Until Simmonds’s thrilling coup de grâce, it felt as if Bath would see this one home. Never have they worked so hard for a losing bonus point.

Neal Hatley, Bath’s head coach, was rightly proud. “I would never question the spirit of this group,” he said. “But when games are nip and tuck, if you don’t put chances away, you get punished.”

Rob Baxter, Exeter’s director of rugby, said: “There was a lot of pressure from us in the last period and we broke them down. We could feel the momentum growing. We are not the team we would like to be yet, but things are brightening.”

Both sides, stocked with internationals after autumn duty, have had to endure a tempestuous week off the field. Ed Griffiths, Saracens’ former chief executive who was brought in to complete a review of Bath, concluded his work this week.

Exeter, meanwhile, are in the midst of an impassioned discourse with their members over their branding. If Bath’s pre-match statement was anything to go by – pleading that visiting fans “refrain from wearing any Native American cultural symbols such as headdresses” – it is clear which way the wind is blowing. There was paltry novelty headgear on show on Friday night.

An Exeter Chiefs fan wears a headdress during the Gallagher Premiership Rugby match between Bath Rugby and Exeter Chiefs at The Recreation Ground on November 26, 2021 in Bath, England. - GETTY IMAGES
An Exeter Chiefs fan wears a headdress during the Gallagher Premiership Rugby match between Bath Rugby and Exeter Chiefs at The Recreation Ground on November 26, 2021 in Bath, England. - GETTY IMAGES

Rarely can Exeter be accused of sloppiness, but they were in the first half. A fabulous early Bath scrum allowed fly-half Orlando Bailey to open the scoring, before the hosts touched down. Miles Reid, Bath’s industrious flanker who was later forced to depart due to injury, steered over a sneaky driving maul. Henry Slade kept the scoreboard ticking for the visitors, with two penalties.

One of the headlines of Griffiths’s Bath review was the recommendation of a defence coach. Surely, with Bath having conceded the second-most tries in the league, that requirement is blindingly obvious? But no one could have predicted the reaction that it had. Bath defended as if their careers depended on it on Friday night – in one first-half passage, in particular. Maybe Griffiths was wrong? Perhaps a decent boot up the proverbial was the secret?

There was one great certainty: Exeter would not be as bad in the second 40 minutes – and one great uncertainty: could Bath maintain their first-half endeavour?

It took three minutes for that question to be answered. Bath switched off the upstairs lights, leaked two quick penalties and Exeter prop Josh Iosefa-Scott barged over. Slade converted and Bath trailed for the first time.

Bailey, showing admirable maturity on fledgling shoulders, nudged Bath back level from the tee, before the hosts crept back into the lead. A brave, breathless and, being critical, slightly ineffective passage of attacks resulted in Exeter not rolling away and Bailey’s boot did the rest.

But the Chiefs, as ever, threw their exquisitely-drilled sinks at it. Maul after maul, scrum after scrum, Exeter battered the Bath door. It did so well to keep out the Chiefs’ battering ram, too, just caving at the last, with Sam Simmonds flying over from a five-metre scrum.

Joe Simmonds’s late penalty killed off Bath. But last night proved there is enough will to get back on the straight and narrow.

Match details

Scoring sequence: 3-0 Bailey pen (4 mins); 3-3 Slade pen (10); 8-3 Reid try (20); 10-3 Bailey con (22); 10-6 Slade pen (29); 10-11 Iosefa-Scott try (43); 10-13 Slade con (44); 13-13 (48); 16-13 Bailey pen (65); 16-18 S Simmonds try (77); 16-20 J Simmonds con (78); 16-23 J Simmonds pen (80).
H-T: 10-6.

Bath: T De Glanville; S Rokoduguni (McConnochie 68), J Joseph, M Ojomoh, W Muir; O Bailey (Cipriani 65), B Spencer (Simpson 65); L Boyce (Vaughan 72), T Dunn (Du Toit 67), W Stuart, J McNally (W Spencer 77), C Ewels (c), M Reid (Ellis 29), S Underhill, J Bayliss.
Replacements not used: Rae.
Exeter Chiefs: S Hogg; J Nowell, H Slade, I Whitten (Hendrickson 67), T O'Flaherty; H Skinner (J Simmonds 56), J Maunder (S Maunder 67); A Hepburn (Moon 65), J Yeandle (c) (Innard 65), J Iosefa-Scott (Williams 48), S Skinner, D Armand, D Ewers, J Kirsten, S Simmonds.
Replacements not used: Tuima, Capstick.
Attendance: 14,461.
Referee: Matthew Carley.

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