Posted 3rd Apr 2024

Four tries apiece but Bath again suffer semi-final heartbreak as Exeter battle through to BUCS National Championship trophy decider

The University of Bath men’s 1st XV produced a magnificent performance against BUCS Super Rugby champions Exeter but suffered National Championship semi-final heartbreak for the fifth time in seven seasons after slipping to a 40-27 away defeat.

The Bath Building Society-sponsored visitors put up a tremendous fight and were right in the contest at half-time, only trailing 20-17, but they were always chasing the game in the second period as the boot of Charlie McCaig – who was 100 per cent from the kicking tee – ultimately proved the difference.

England U20 prop Scott Kirk tackles Exeter’s Dylan Power. PICTURES: Jack Hodgetts (@jhodgettsmedia)

Bath, who are also supported by Rengen, named the same XV that started last week’s excellent 33-23 quarter-final win at Durham while their bench was bolstered by the return of co-captain Tom Cowan, England U20 player Harvey Cuckson and University of Bath sporting scholar Ethan Staddon on the day after he renewed his contract at Bath Rugby.

The visitors defended ferociously during the early stages and their strength in the pack also showed when they set up their first attacking platform, Bath forcing a penalty from a scrum in the Exeter 22 that Iwan Price-Thomas slotted over in the 10th minute.

Josh Dingley wins a lineout for Bath

Exeter responded in kind immediately, McCaig kicking a penalty from the halfway line, but more magnificent defending from Bath prevented the hosts from forging ahead until the 27th minute when they finally worked some space on the right flank for Jack Forsythe to touch down. McCaig added the extras.

Bath hit back brilliantly, unleashing their trademark driving maul to score their first try of the game through hooker Jasper Spandler. The conversion from Price-Thomas levelled the scores at 10-10 but Exeter forced a knock-on from the restart and McCaig’s penalty edged the hosts in front again.

Scrum-half Elis Horgan in action for Bath

Josh Dingley was sin-binned shortly after and, when the subsequent penalty was kicked to touch, the lineout led to a try from Lucas Dorrell which McCaig added to as Exeter took a 20-10 lead with 40 minutes on the clock.

However, there was still enough time for Bath to score from the restart, Spandler again going over from a lineout drive, and Price-Thomas’s successful conversion with the last kick of the half meant there were just three points in it at the break.

Bath still only had 14 men for the opening minutes of the second half and Exeter took full advantage, exerting huge pressure that ended with Seb Dricoll burrowing over. McCaig’s conversion restored the home side’s 10-point advantage and he added a penalty soon after before another clinical kick with 10 minutes to go stretched Exeter’s lead to 33-17.

The visitors kept battling away and a clever kick from Raff Weston was kept alive by Ludo Kolade before being pounced on by fellow co-captain Tom Cowan, who raced through to score an excellent try. The conversion went wide, though, and Exeter were able to grab a killer fourth try through Seb Driscoll, which McCaig again converted.

Bath finished their season on a positive note, Iwan Coyle scoring their fourth try of the game in the dying seconds, but it was Exeter who progressed to the StoneX Stadium.

Match stats

Exeter starting XV: 1 Jared Williams, 2 Louie Gulley, 3 Archie Owlett, 4 Milo Hallam, 5 Joe Bailey, 6 Lucas Dorrell, 7 Jack Forsythe, 8 Seb Driscoll; 9 Jake Murray, 10 Ben Coen, 11 Benjy Joseland, 12 Dylan Power, 13 Charlie McCaig, 14 Kian Gentry, 15 Hugo Ellenby. Replacements: 16 Josh MacAndrew, 17 Chris Freeman, 18 Tom Gulley, 19 Ronan Kelly, 20 Finn Worley-Brady, 21 Ben Potter, 22 Jack Park, 23 Kofi Barton-Byfield.

Tries: Forsythe, Dorrell, Bailey, Driscoll.
Conversion: McCaig 4.
Penalty: McCaig 4.

University of Bath starting XV: 1 Scott Kirk, 2 Jasper Spandler, 3 Billy Sela, 4 Will Jeanes, 5 Josh Dingley, 6 Mackenzie Graham, 7 Iwan Coyle, 8 Evan Jones; 9 Elis Horgan (cc), 10 Raff Weston, 11 Byron Lloyd-Gilmour, 12 Ludo Kolade (cc), 13 James Short, 14 Alfie Garside, 15 Iwan Price-Thomas. Replacements: 16 Max Pearce, 17 Archie Stanley, 18 Alfie Griffin, 19 Harvey Cuckson, 20 Ethan Staddon, 21 Tom Cowan, 22 Ioan Lewis, 23 Oli Sedgwick.

Tries: Spandler 2, Cowan, Coyle.
Conversion: Price-Thomas 2.
Penalty: Price-Thomas.

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