Bath taken to the cleaners by high-flying Exeter Chiefs
CHAMPIONS Exeter moved ten points clear of third-placed Bath at the top of the Premiership – and for 73 minutes the difference between the title rivals yawned far wider.
But, in a bizarre finish, Bath, outplayed in virtually all departments, finally got their attacking game together to cut a 32-point deficit to 13 with three tries in the final seven minutes.
“We’ve given them a bonus point we didn’t need to,” said Exeter forwards coach Rob Hunter. “They have some electric backs and if you let them run they’ll hurt you.”
The late collapse could not take the gloss off a truly dominant Chiefs performance and Hunter said: “For the first 60 minutes we were outstanding. We were very pleased to get out of the blocks and get ahead against a Bath team we’ve never really performed that well against.”
Exeter’s relentless forward machine was straight into its stride and Bath were unable to resist the third drive in an early onslaught which took Luke Cowan-Dickie over in his first Premiership start of the season.
They were 14-0 up after 16 minutes when rightwing Olly Woodburn, who popped up on the left, and fellow flyer James Short shredded England pair Semesa Rokoduguni and Anthony Watson before Short dived over in the corner.
Freddie Burns opened Bath’s account with a 28thminute penalty but they failed to claim the restart and Don Armand snatched up the loose ball and his pack mates did the rest to muscle Mitch Lees over.
A high tackle on Alec Hepburn by Anthony Perenise enabled Steenson to set up Exeter’s trademark catch and drive. Eight phases enabled the unstoppable Exeter unit to move forwards and sideways before Armand claimed the bonus-point try after only 36 minutes.
The one-way traffic continued in the second half with Hepburn, Armand and England prop Harry Williams throwing the ball around like backs. And Chiefs outstanding No.8 Thomas Waldrom managed to slice through for his side’s fifth try.
A Woodburn fumble on halfway enabled Joseph to kick ahead, collect and score before drop-kicking the conversion.
The Chiefs restored their 32-point lead when Will Chudley and Short sent Steenson diving over. The Exeter skipper then converted for a 100 per cent kicking display.
After both sides emptied their benches, Bath got their act together with three tries in the final seven minutes for an unlikely losing bonus point.
Rhys Priestland’s kick over the top found Watson before they teamed up again for Watson to round things off in the corner.
Three minutes later Aled Brew squeezed over and Bath forfeited the conversion attempt to save time as they chased a fourth try.
It came with a powerful surge through the middle by former England winger Matt Banahan, who had replaced the disappointing Rokoduguni.
Six appeal: Gareth Steenson goes over for try No.6 in Exeter’s romp
Losing cause: Bath’s Luke Charteris tries to break through Exeter’s defence