Chiefs fight back but Bath hang on

Bath 23 Exeter 15

the recreation ground

Bath maintained their grip on this fixture but only after their 14 men survived a ferocious comeback by Exeter.

None of the Chiefs who played were born when Exeter last got the better of their West Country rivals in the John Player Special Cup back in 1978. Yet rarely have they come closer after a second-half fightback that undeservedly came up short.

Bath looked to be chasing a bonus-point win when their outstanding captain, Francois Louw, scored his team's third try before the hour to open a 20-8 lead but were forced to dig deep, not least when Dan Hipkiss was shown a red card while sat in the sin-bin.

Exeter shook off their handling problems and Hipkiss paid for his team's indiscretions. That did not stop the centre stepping off the sin-bin and deflecting Stephen Donald's kick to touch into the crowd, preventing Exeter taking a quick lineout.

That left Bath's 14 men to weather the storm for the final 13 minutes. Club captain Stuart Hooper, on as a replacement following injury, twice came up trumps with telling tackles before Donald's late penalty released the pressure. Bath head coach Gary Gold said: "It wasn't the smartest thing to do. He was due to come back on and it would have made life easier had we had a good defender back on after 10 minutes rest."

Bath's imports laid the foundations with Paul James in the scrum and Louw playing well. With half-backs Michael Claasens and Stephen Donald on form, the likes of Hipkiss, Tom Biggs and Nick Abendanon thrived.

Ben Williams barged over inside three minutes and Kyle Eastmond followed. Exeter's Gareth Steenson had an off-day in front of goal, striking to the left, right and directly at the uprights.

Coach Rob Baxter said: "My frustration is not with losing the game, but with our first-half performance. We lacked decision-making and clarity and looked cagey from the start."

 



When they did keep hold, Exeter looked threatening as Tom Johnson sent over Brett Sturgess before the replacement Ignacio Mieres set up a nail-biting climax only to miss in the final minute as a losing bonus point cruelly eluded Exeter.

Bath N Abendanon; K Eastmond, D Hipkiss, B Williams (S Vesty, 70), T Biggs; S Donald, M Claassens; P James, L Mears (B Sharman, 72), D Wilson (A Perenise, 57), D Day (S Hooper, 55), D Attwood, C Fearns (W Skuse, 10-19, 24), B Skirving, F Louw (capt, N Catt, 68).

Exeter L Arscott; G Camacho, P Dollman, J Shoemark, M Jess; G Steenson (I Mieres, 53), H Thomas (K Barrett, 72); B Sturgess (B Moon, 63), S Alcott (C Whitehead, 52), C Rimmer, D Mumm, J Hanks (A Muldowney, 53), T Johnson, R Baxter (capt), J Scaysbrook.

Referee Wayne Barnes.

Attendance 12,200.

Bath

Tries: Williams, Eastmond, Louw

Con: Donald

Pens: Donald 2

Exeter

Tries: Sturgess, Mieres

Cons: Mieres

Pen: Steenson

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When I was supporting Ray La Montagne I was six months pregnant. He had been touring for a year and he was exhausted and full of the cold. I was feeling motherly, so I would leave presents for him and his band: Tunnock's Tea Cakes, cold remedies and proper tea. Ray seemed painfully shy. He hardly spoke, hardly looked at you in the face. I felt like a dick speaking to him, but said "hi" every day. </p>
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He was being courted by the same record company who had signed me and subsequently let me go, and I wanted him to know that there were people around who didn't want anything from him. At the Shepherds Bush Empire in London, on the last night of the tour, Ray stopped in his set to thank me for doing the support. He said I was a really good songwriter and people should buy my stuff. I was taken aback and felt emotionally overwhelmed. Later that year, just before I had my boy Louis, I was l asleep in bed with Radio 4 on when Louis moved around in my belly and woke me up. Ray was doing a session on the World Service. </p>
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