George Ford ruled the roost at The Rec as the fly-half knocked over all of Bath Rugby’s points to secure a 21-16 win over Exeter Chiefs in a thrilling West Country derby.
Chiefs forward Damian Welch ran over for a try of the season contender in the first half while Dean Mumm scored another fine effort after the break.
However, the display at No.10 proved pivotal as Ford knocked over six penalties and a conversion to clinch victory for the hosts, as Gareth Steenson missed a slew of kicks for Exeter.
South Africa flanker Francois Louw and Argentina back Horacio Agulla returned to reinforce Bath’s starting line-up after international duty, while club captain Stuart Hooper was left out of the matchday squad altogether.
For the Chiefs, full-back Luke Arscott – who impressed at The Rec two weeks ago in his side’s losing LV= Cup effort – slotted in at full-back for his first Aviva Premiership start of the season.
Exeter have never beaten Bath in the Premiership since promotion three years ago but Steenson knocked the first penalty between the posts after a fantastic break from wing Jack Nowell.
The hosts nearly came roaring back immediately but teenager Anthony Watson – starting ahead of Nick Abendanon at full-back – could not quite collect Louw’s underthrown pass.
It did eventually lead to a penalty however as Ford drilled over an impressive 40-metre effort to tie the scores.
Both sides were going full-pelt, Louw a key man in stemming Exeter’s relentless attacks as Arscott enjoyed a break of his own.
The Chiefs continued to knock on the door but were getting nowhere recycling the ball just outside Bath’s 22 – the home side’s defensive line holding firm.
And it would take a sensational piece of play to tear Bath apart as Matt Jess, seemingly running down a blind alley, popped up on the left to put Welch through.
But the lock had it all to do, throwing off Matt Garvey, Peter Stringer and a desperate last-ditch tackle from Watson before lunging full-stretch to plant the ball on the whitewash.
Exeter’s magic could not be followed up with a Steenson conversion as Ford clocked up another penalty to cut their opponents’ advantage down to two points on the half-hour mark.
It was then the Chiefs turn to play backs to the wall and were unlucky to go in behind at the break after Ford knocked over another supreme penalty from long range.
Bath’s momentum was not lost in the second half and their rolling maul from a lineout was held up inches away from the try-line.
It was advantage Bath but another maul was foiled as after five intense minutes, the Chiefs received a penalty of their own to rid themselves of pressure.
However Exeter continued to rack up the penalty count – and, following a scything Matt Banahan run, Ford needed no invitation to boot over his fourth of the day after the visitors were penalised at the breakdown.
Moments later the Chiefs hit back when Mumm showed an extraordinary turn of pace to beat Bath’s backs to the ball and dot down, dragging his side back in front.
As much as Exeter’s locks were having fun, Steenson was having an unhappy time with his conversions – missing his second of the day – and their lead was short-lived when fly-half Ford stepped up for another Bath penalty.
Confidence was coursing through Ford’s veins and a perfectly-delivered drop goal added to his tally, though Steenson turned around his own fortunes with a penalty – the Chiefs deficit reduced to two with nine minutes to go.
But Steenson could not double up with a 40-metre effort moments later and to complete a near-perfect performance by Ford, the 20-year-old collected yet another penalty as Bath made sure of the win.
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