Will Chudley’s opportunistic second-half score gave Exeter Chiefs their first ever Aviva Premiership Rugby victory over Bath Rugby and ensured the race for a place in the top four remains wide open.
With both defences having to sustain periods of intense pressure on their own try-line, three penalties from Henry Slade and two from Tom Homer saw the game finely poised heading into the final 20 minutes.
But when Bath fly-half Ollie Devoto failed to find touch with a penalty Exeter built a fantastic attack, from which a quick-thinking Chudley leaped through a defensive gap to score the game’s only try under the posts.
An early penalty saw Bath find touch to set up the first attacking position and after Sam Burgess had rather fortuitously earned a scrum put-in after losing the ball, a strong push from the forwards resulted in a penalty.
Homer couldn’t have wished for an easier opener and duly put the visitors 3-0 in front of what was a record crowd at Sandy Park, before a move from Bath almost had Semesa Rokoduguni touching down.
A great spin and offload from Ross Batty, as well as some neat handling from Burgess eventually had Rokoduguni one on one over in the far right corner, but a misplaced offload was snapped up by Dean Mumm.
The Chiefs captain was caught by Homer after making 50 metres but when the supporting Tomas Francis was hauled down before he had possession of the loose ball by Micky Young, the scrum-half was yellowed carded.
Slade knocked over the ensuing penalty on 11 minutes to level the game up and it was the Chiefs, with a man advantage, who almost scored the game’s first try shortly after.
An excellent scrum from the hosts saw the ball turned over and after several phases it looked like Tom James was certain to score in the far left corner.
It took some desperate defending from Devoto and captain Stuart Hooper to stop the wing though and earned the visitors a penalty, allowing them to clear the danger.
With Young back on the field Bath tried to respond through Rokoduguni – the England wing picked a great line to burst through the Chiefs defence but a knock-out during the next phase saw an end to the attack.
In what is becoming a familiar occurrence in Bath colours, an excellent surge and offload from Burgess found Devoto and the fly-half went weaving through before earning a penalty that Homer duly converted.
The Chiefs then made an early statement, earning a penalty from the first scrum of the second half, and Slade drew them level once more with a penalty from just inside the Bath half aided by the wind.
A succession of catch and drive attempts were thwarted by the Exeter defence and Mike Ford cut a frustrated figure when his side were penalised five metres from the Chiefs line, ending a period of sustained pressure that yielded no points.
In similar fashion, Exeter put together their longest attack of the half and after 19 phases they too couldn’t find the try-line, although a penalty saw Slade put the Chiefs ahead for the first time in the game with 18 minutes remaining.
And when Devoto couldn’t find touch with a poor kick, Mumm and Ewers carried brilliantly in the ensuing response, dragging Bath defenders in and creating space for the overlap.
And with gaps appearing, Chudley spotted one and went alone to score under the posts, allowing Slade to score an easy conversion and inflict a third straight Aviva Premiership Rugby defeat on Bath.
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