Written by: Rhys Jones
Sub-edited by: Ryan Moran
Bath and Exeter will face off at Sandy Park in the second Gallagher Premiership semi-final of the weekend, looking to advance to the final and lift highly coveted, and now heavily asterisked Gallagher Premiership trophy on the 24th October at Twickenham.
Bath have lost just one of their last six matches, and are coming off the back of a 17-17 draw with Saracens.
Bath at one point were 17-3 clear, before a penalty try and Tim Swinson score, converted by Manu Vunipola, allowed the relegated champions to snatch a draw.
Exeter booked their place in the Premiership playoffs weeks ago, and since then Rob Baxter has fielded sides featuring a healthy mix of youth and experience. Reluctantly copping losses such as last weekend’s 46-5 away loss to Wasps, and the 19-22 home loss to London Irish the week before.
A 28-18 win over four-time Heineken Cup winners Toulouse preceded those two matches, booking a place in their first European final against Racing 92. Exeter will be aiming to do the double this year, but can Bath stop them getting their first piece of silverware?
Bath’s keys to victory?
Bath’s Ben Spencer has played out of his skin since making the move from Saracens earlier this year. While it would be unfair to attribute Bath’s incredible post-lockdown transformation to Spencer alone, it is clear he’s likely been the best Premiership player this side of lockdown, and is Bath’s key to victory over Exeter.
Spencer’s accurate box kicking will be needed to pin Exeter within their own 22 as much as possible, since seemingly the only way to stop Exeter’s pick and go routine is to not allow them into the positions to enact it.
Bath have been physically beating teams up through their forward play, their strong carrying, their systematic lineout and mauls. This could be important for them against Exeter who’s own hooker, Luke Cowan-Dickie, has shown signs of stuttering at the lineout.
Throw in the class of Anthony Watson, Semesa Rokoduguni, Joe Cokanasiga and Ruaridh McConnochie (whose nine tries sits him fifth in this season’s scoring charts) out wide as added threat and the tools for Bath are evident.
It’s interesting to note that bath have scored 17 of their 58 tries this season via their front row, and is a testament to the commanding form of their front three, most notably Beno Obano, Will Stuart and Tom Dunn, who has the fourth most tackles of the season with 217.
Rhys Priestland at 10 leads the Premiership points chart with 200, aided by a kicking success rate of 79.59% out of 98 total kick attempts. If Bath can maintain their physical, penalty-winning play against Exeter, they know Priestland will put points on the board for them.
Will Exeter have too much?
Exeter meanwhile, are forever Exeter. You know how they’re going to play, they make use of pinpoint box-kicking from the base of the ruck, alongside deep and accurate kicks from Stuart Hogg and Henry Slade to put the opposition under pressure. And their pick and go game is probably the most dangerous weapon in any team’s arsenal.
Sam Simmonds and Slade will trade playmaking roles, and once they get into the opponent’s 22, their forward pack only has eyes for the tryline. If their pack doesn’t get the job done, a dangerous back three of Olly Woodburn, Tom O’Flaherty and Hogg likely will.
The Exeter Chiefs’ way of playing is a system, with every player knowing exactly what their role in the system is.
They excel in every area of the game, averaging the most time in possession per game this season (19 minutes, 22 seconds), second in most tackles (3125), third in defenders beaten (510), second in most carries (2758), third in most passes (3063), and lastly the most tries (83). All of this points to complete control of the game.
Exeter: 15. Stuart Hogg, 14. Olly Woodburn, 13. Henry Slade, 12 Ollie Devoto, 11. Tom O’Flaherty, 10. Joe Simmonds (C), 9. Jack Maunder; 1. Alec Hepburn, 2. Luke Cowan-Dickie, 3. Harry Williams, 4. Jonny Gray, 5. Jonny Hill, 6. Dave Ewers, 7. Jacques Vermeulen, 8. Sam Simmonds
Replacements 16. Jack Yeandle, 17. Ben Moon, 18. Tomas Francis, 19. Sam Skinner, 20. Jannes Kirsten, 21. Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, 22. Gareth Steenson, 23. Ian Whitten
Bath: 15. Anthony Watson, 14. Ruaridh McConnochie, 13. Jonathan Joseph, 12. Cameron Redpath, 11. Joe Cokanasiga, 10. Rhys Priestland, 9. Ben Spencer; 1. Beno Obano, 2. Tom Dunn, 3. Will Stuart, 4. Josh McNally, 5. Charlie Ewels (C), 6. Tom Ellis, 7. Sam Underhill, 8. Taulupe Faletau
Replacements 16. Jack Walker, 17. Lewis Boyce, 18. Christian Judge, 19. Elliott Stooke, 20. Miles Reid, 21. Will Chudley, 22. Josh Matavesi, 23. Tom de Glanville
Exeter Chiefs vs Bath
16:30 BT Sport 1, Kick-off 16:30pm