George Ford kicks late penalty as Bath clinch narrow win over Exeter
George Ford returned to club action after England's World Cup disappointment and kicked a 78th-minute penalty as Bath beat Exeter 19-17 at the Recreation Ground.
With various members of Stuart Lancaster's red-faced side back in club action, fellow international Henry Slade scuffed a drop-goal attempt that would have swung the Aviva Premiership encounter back in the Chiefs' favour shortly after.
Ford kicked four penalties in a match dominated by referee Tim Wigglesworth's whistle, and the England fly-half also converted skipper Stuart Hooper's try late in the first half.
Exeter had had the best possible start when wing James Short finished off a blistering counter-attack inside the first minute, evading Ford's last-ditch tackle. Gareth Steenson could not convert.
Ford put Bath on the scoreboard with a seventh-minute penalty awarded at the first scrum, but Exeter captain Steenson restored the five-point lead three minutes later when the Bath front row were penalised.
Ford was quite prepared to hoist the ball into the air - and twice Semesa Rokoduguni and England wing Anthony Watson outjumped Phil Dollman, displaying immaculate aerial skills but without managing to break free once on the turf.
Referee Wigglesworth dished out penalties to both sides at the scrum but it was Bath who began to gain an edge. And when hooker Luke Cowan-Dickie was driven over the try-line by Dave Ewers on the half-hour - without managing to ground the ball - Will Chudley was forced to feed the ball crooked at the five-metre put-in.
Exeter's indiscipline had them on the back foot and Bath finally cashed in on the half-hour, as Ford's clever lobbed pass put Watson away on the left, and Devon-born captain Hooper took an inside pass to gallop over.
Ford converted to put his side ahead for the first time but half-back partner Cook had a clearance kick charged down and Matt Banahan deliberately knocked the ball on under his own posts to prevent a try. As the former England player walked to the sin-bin, Steenson kicked the penalty to send Exeter in 11-10 ahead at half-time.
Bath brought on Sam Burgess and Fiji scrum-half Niko Matawalu at the break and won two more scrum penalties while Banahan was off the field. The second allowed Ford to put his side back in front at 13-11 - prompting Exeter coach Rob Baxter to change both props.
Steenson and Ford exchanged penalties again before replacement Slade had a chance from 50 metres, but the ball fell short.
With Exeter playing a penalty advantage, Slade then stretched out a long arm to touch down from a ruck but the television replay showed he had lost the ball.
For the next 15 minutes, Bath just could not gain possession and when they did, they kicked it away and none too accurately. Instead, Burgess went to the bin on 66 minutes for being blatantly offside at a ruck and Steenson made it 17-16 to Exeter.
Bath's breakdown work was too ragged to shake off Exeter's iron grip around the tackle area but Bath finally had a chance to redeem themselves with Ford's spiralling penalty kick to touch deep in the Exeter 22.
Matt Garvey, Bath's stand-out forward, claimed the ball one-handed and the catch-and-drive forced a penalty, which Ford gratefully converted.