We can only apologise for how quiet we have been over the last week or so but we must make the excuse that rugby has been exhausting recently! Whether it's conclusion protocols throwing the game into disrepute, fans and coaches becoming hitter enemies on the international stage or just simply underwhelming performances by sides who look so horrendously out of shape, the Covid curse has definitely caught up to us this season as the Rugby has been pretty dire. However, this game suddenly breathed life back into my sorry, cold lungs and got me excited to recap rugby again, so here we are!
Bath are perhaps the most inconsistent side in the Premiership at the moment, and I don't mean that in a purely results focused basis, but rather the way they open and finish each match. Against Wasps earlier in the competition, they flew in 25 points before the first quarter was up only to fall to pieces when Wasps threw it back at them. Against the Saints, the opposite occurred, being completely outgunned and out matched in the first half, only to pull back a staggering win when all hope seemed lost. In this game however, they chose the brash beginnings that felt eerily similar to the game we saw at the Rec vs the men in black and gold two months ago. They threw everything at Exeter and put on an attacking clinic with Priestland throwing unpredictable and imaginative, deft passes to his outside man, Faletau making solo breaks and providing awesome offloads, Matavesi breaking the line on multiple occasions and it felt like Exeter were in for a long afternoon. At 13 - 0 up, it felt like Exeter were beginning to lose touch of the game before it had even started...
Whenever you watch Exeter go down early, it feels like there is always one player pulling the rest of the side back up from the mud, usually it's players such as the Simmonds brothers, Ewers and Hogg, but this time around it had to be O'Flaherty. He was untouchable with ball in hand, running some excellent support lines whilst also cutting against the grain himself to open up gaps that simply weren't there to begin with. Despite Sam Simmonds, again, scoring the try to galvanise the Chiefs back into order, it was O'Flaherty's constant danger around the midfield that had Bath shaking in their size 11 boots. It's crazy that O'Flaherty hasn't been considered by anyone for international duties yet as he is one the in form wingers in the league despite getting relatively no press from Rugby pundits.
The Kicking Game
I've whined a lot about how poor the territory kicking of each side has been thus far this competition as they try to replicate England's previous winning formula from the Autumn Nations Cup. However, like England, every side seems to be butchering the simple routines, failing to find space, often kicking too far or too shallow and throwing away attacking possession. This game I felt a little bit more at ease as both Joe Simmonds and Rhys Priestland put on a clinic on how to find space with intelligent kicks. The best compliment you can give an in form 10 is not noticing their kicks when they make them. I don't mean that any of the kicks were unremarkable as there were some standout moments, but the fact that I can come out of this game not frustrated by aimless box kicking, uncontested up and unders and poor punting, means that each player did their job to a tee and kept the game trundling forwards without hiccups. Priestland continues to be flawless when kicking at goal and Simmonds delivery is so sharp that sides can't react to his touch finders soon enough.
Players for the Future
There were a lot of great youth performances across the pitch, none more so than a losing effort from Miles Reid. He's the perfect option for Bath at the moment due to Underhill's sheer lack of club game time from year to year. Reid is frenetic, dogged, ruthless around the fringes and electric at the breakdown, I truly believe he is one of Bath's most valuable players. I also thought that Stu Townsend looked excellent when he came on and proved why he needs to be starting for a top club side within the next season or two. De Glanville had a couple of stellar defensive actions too, looking like a natural starter for this Bath side. It's very promising for the future, that's if anyone will take a chance on these youngsters.
Tom O'Flaherty - Quickly becoming one of my favourite players, O'Flaherty put in a MotM performance, stepping in from his wing and adding blinding speed to this Exeter side.
Sam Skinner - Tough, robust and yet another fantastic second row option for Exeter to have on their books. Between him, Gray, Hill and Armand, they have that position on lockdown.
Sam Simmonds - I couldn't not mention him, he's electric off of the base of the scrum and scored an excellent solo effort in the opposition 22.
Tom Dunn - Really hard to pick someone this week as both sides look great in glimpses but Dunn was uncharacteristically quiet throughout this game. Largely anonymous around the pitch, he didn't seem at his rampaging best and looked like he might need a rest.