Bath’s Alfie Barbeary scored twice to lead his team to victory against Exeter in a local rivalry match. This win earned Bath bragging rights over their opponents.
After a tumultuous week for English rugby, everyone was in need of some festive spirit along the River Avon. The weather was far from warm, but the intense and lively match between local rivals provided enough excitement to keep everyone engaged until the last quarter. However, during this time, Bath finally let go and played with a free-flowing style.
Alfie Barbeary’s second attempt proved crucial in solidifying a strong home performance, which bodes well for the England team as they plan for the future. Bath’s Sam Underhill was a standout player, consistently causing trouble at the breakdown, and appears to be the top contender to fill in for the injured Tom Curry at openside.
Bath’s captain, Ben Spencer, was also a standout player who effectively connected his team’s backs and forwards. He consistently shows his skills as a top-notch scrum-half in all aspects of the game. Along with Finn Russell, he is elevating Bath’s performance and providing them with a noticeable level of control that is bringing them more success. Exeter’s Rob Baxter praised Bath, recognizing that his young team was outperformed in many key aspects of the game.
During crucial moments, one of the players made a significant impact on the game. Spencer demonstrated this by creating and scoring a key try just two minutes into the second half. Despite not having many options near his own 22, he tricked the opposing team by pretending to pass the ball left from a scrum and instead went down the short side with Joe Cokanasiga. The officials did not penalize what may have been a slightly forward pass, and Spencer happily completed the play.
Although the young Chiefs team had some moments, the yellow card given to scrum-half Stu Townsend in the 61st minute for falling over a ruck was a crucial turning point. According to Baxter, it greatly impacted their performance. At the time, the Chiefs were trailing 20-17, but Bath capitalized on their extra player and stepped up their game, resulting in points scored by Cokanasiga and Will Butt.
For those dressed in appropriate layers, it was a pleasant afternoon. Somerset had been covered in a layer of hoar frost and fog all morning, but there were brief moments of sunshine and blue skies during the first half. Both teams were eager to play, but Bath was the first to score when a long offensive maul resulted in a try for the powerful Barbeary, who was hoping to recapture the same impressive ball-carrying energy that made him a beloved player at his previous team, Wasps.
Russell faced challenges, but with a strong team supporting him, his presence alone is empowering his teammates to take more risks. Even before Redpath’s impressive play, there were already some clever moves and turns. Then, with a cleverly timed pass from Spencer, Redpath increased the home team’s lead to 12-0 with a smooth left step.
Exeter needed a response and found a fine one straight off a lineout, a straight-running Joe Hawkins serving up a lovely pass for Henry Slade to slice through and score. The centre added a conversion and a subsequent penalty and, with the temperature starting to drop again, it was a two-point ball game at the interval.
Bath’s success was heavily reliant on Spencer’s decision to take a risk and his ability to execute it with speed. While Exeter may regret some instances of lack of control, Bath proved their excellence in the crucial red zone. Cokanasiga scored a try shortly after Townsend left the field, Barbeary made a breakaway from an attacking ruck, and Butt benefitted from a fantastic pick-up by Will Muir.
Ehren Painter’s late try in the fading light was a small consolation for Exeter, as both teams now turn their focus to the upcoming start of European competition this weekend. Bath, who will host Ulster next Saturday, are expected to have most of their top players available, including South African prop Thomas du Toit. However, their director of rugby, Johann van Graan, did not confirm whether Rugby World Cup champion and Springbok lock forward RG Snyman will be joining the team next season after his planned departure from Munster.