Nick of time Nowell makes point to England adversary
James Short led Exeter’s smash-andgrab raid with two late tries that brought them their first Premiership win at the Recreation Ground.
Exeter spent 70 minutes in grim defence but their heroic efforts restricted Bath to just one try and gave them the opportunity to inflict a first home league defeat on Bath in nine months.
They grasped it with both hands as Short gathered a juggled pass from Luke Cowan-Dickie after 72 minutes and then rounded off a brilliant attack started by England wing Jack Nowell five minutes later.
Nowell was hauled down by Tom Homer but Exeter recycled the ball alive and Gareth Steenson flicked it to Short, who crossed on the overlap and celebrated a famous win with an exaggerated dive.
“The only thing we talked about at half-time was nothing tactical, nothing technical, it was all about attitude,” said Exeter head coach Rob Baxter. “You can’t come away from home and lose the physical battle and we were losing it everywhere. Our line-out didn’t particularly function, our scrum wasn’t doing anything particularly, we struggled to get go forward in our carrying and we were on the back foot often when they carried.
“They found momentum so much easier than we did and their willingness to kick, chase and compete was a little bit of a level above ours.
“But, after the key moment in the second half when we were camped in our corner and managed to resist a drive and resist some phase play and come up with a penalty, we almost looked comfortable as a team because the momentum shifted our way. Then Jack Nowell is the guy making the breaks and getting us on the front foot, our front row drove us forward, our scrum became more dominant and our line-out became more productive.”
Bath’s director of rugby Todd Blackadder struggled to explain how his side had been beaten in a match they had dominated for long periods but the loss of props Nathan Catt, Max Lahiff and Nic Auterac with head injuries disrupted their scrum and meant they had only 14 men on the pitch when Short scored the winning try.
“It was a shame to lose our props because I thought we had some dominance there. To go down to 14 men with 10 minutes to go just makes it harder,” Blackadder said. “It does seem a little bit unfair the way we were penalised there.”
The uncapped Catt, who failed a head injury assessment after 18 minutes, is still expected to attend England’s Six Nations training camp in Jack Nowell denied his England wing rival Semesa Rokoduguni a superb solo try with a last-ditch tackle to keep Exeter in the game.
Brighton tomorrow and Tuesday, having been included in Eddie Jones’s 33strong squad. Catt was unaware of his call-up until after the match as he was warming-up when England announced their squad an hour before kick-off here. Semesa Rokoduguni was a surprise omission from England’s squad, even though he scored two tries on his last international appearance against Fiji in November.
Rokoduguni looked like a man who had a point to prove to England head coach Jones, who watched with his assistants Steve Borthwick and Neal Hatley, and he did not deserve to finish on the losing side. Rokoduguni showed what a potent attacking force he is by wriggling past Olly Woodburn and Phil Dollman for Bath’s only try and he almost conjured another from nothing.
“Rokoduguni was almost unplayable. I remember turning to [assistant coach] Ali Hepher at one stage and saying it was like him having a Harry Potter cloak of invisibility. We were almost laughing about it because we could not lay a finger on him,” Baxter said.
While there was no faulting Rokoduguni in attack, he has been told by England that he needs to improve his positioning in defence and he was caught out when Short went outside him for his first try. Dave Attwood, another man left out of England’s Six Nations squad, also featured prominently when Bath’s pack were at their most dominant and wing Anthony Watson made his return to action after almost three months out with a broken jaw.
Watson, who will attend the Brighton training camp, almost scored with his first touch of the ball when he was put free by Ben Tapuai but he was bundled into touch by Dollman whose tackle summed up Exeter’s resilience.
“If I was going to wrap up our season in quarters, in the first quarter we didn’t achieve what we achieved last season in a good season,” Baxter said.
“In the second quarter, particularly in the Premiership, we have won at Sale which we didn’t do last season, we have taken five points against Leicester at home which we didn’t do last season and we have come to Bath and won.
“We had a good season last year but we have started to knock off some markers that could define an improvement on last season.”