Exeter’s Sam Simmonds leaves it late to crush Bath’s hopes of a first win

The Gallagher Premiership season is over three months old and Bath still cannot buy a win. They came agonisingly close here but ultimately could not quite seal the deal, a well-taken 77th-minute try from number eight Sam Simmonds securing fourth-placed Exeter a scrappy but hard-earned victory.

Despite the return of Dave Ewers, back for the first time since mid-October, and Henry Slade, fresh from his productive autumn with England, there was never any sense of Exeter having things all their own way.

The Chiefs had lost four of their first eight league games, an indication of the increasing competitiveness of the sides around them and their own relative lack of zip and fluency, but they still possess the ability to dig collectively deep when it really matters.

It was not a night for any international players seeking a stress-free return to domestic competition. While the Chiefs had been victorious on their last five visits to Bath, the home side’s desperation for victory made for a hard-nosed contest on a chilly evening beside the River Avon.

Bath, with Sam Underhill, Charlie Ewels, Will Stuart and Josh Bayliss all back from Test duty to reinforce their pack, are certainly not a soft touch on paper and by the end of the first quarter they had established a 10-3 lead thanks to a close-range line-out drive finished off by Miles Reid and the right boot of Orlando Bailey.

Most Chiefs fans were just relieved to have some league rugby to distract them from the ongoing controversy over the club’s Native American-themed branding. They were also grateful to Slade for keeping them in touch with a couple of well-struck penalties. Bath supporters were even less impressed when play was waved on after Tom De Glanville, chasing his own chip ahead, tripped over after contact from the retreating Stuart Hogg.

With Slade just wide with a third penalty attempt the game was delicately poised at the interval. Neither side was particularly oozing confidence and the late withdrawal through illness of Sean Lonsdale had also forced the Chiefs to put Don Armand in the second row in the absence of more recognised locks such as England’s Jonny Hill and Scotland’s Jonny Gray.

A change of ends, though, seemed to galvanise the visitors. Within three minutes Bath found themselves under pressure close to their own line and this time the Chiefs were not to be denied, their hirsute Kiwi prop Josh Iosefa-Scott completing a successful close-range drive to put his side ahead for the first time. Slade’s wide-angled conversion compounded the pain for Bath, who had already lost the flanker Miles Reid with a painful-looking shoulder injury.

How much did Bath have left in the tank? Bailey squeezed over another penalty to tie the scores once more and Slade mis-hit a chance to regain the advantage. Instead Bailey’s third penalty on 64 minutes made it 16-13 to the hosts and despite the arrival of Harry Williams in the front row, Chiefs still could not quite gain the set-piece edge they might have hoped for.

The final quarter, though, was always going to be tense. Exeter turned down a kickable penalty to go for the corner but from the ensuing drive the normally deadly Sam Simmonds was held up. By now the Chiefs scrum was belatedly rampant and from another huge shove, Simmonds was again snagged just short by Underhill with advantage being played.

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It was to prove only a temporary reprieve. From the ensuing scrum in the shadow of the posts Simmonds was by far the quickest to react off the base of the scrum and dived to clinch victory.

A last-gasp penalty from Joe Simmonds provided the final kick in the Somerset solar plexus on a night when Stuart Hooper’s side at least displayed no shortage of spirit. Bath, though, are now up to eight games without a win and trail the field by eight points with their fixture list offering little instant relief.

Elsewhere winds of up to 100mph in the north-east forced the Premiership game between Newcastle Falcons and Worcester Warriors to be postponed for 24 hours on safety grounds. The match at Kingston Park will now kick off at 6pm on Saturday.


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