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Stuart Hogg inspires Exeter to keep play-off hopes alive

By PA
Stuart Hogg of Exeter Chiefs celebrates their sides fifth try with team mate Jack Innard during the Gallagher Premiership Rugby match between Exeter Chiefs and Bath Rugby (Photo by Harry Trump/Getty Images)

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A Stuart Hogg-inspired Exeter Chiefs kept their Premiership play-off hopes alive with a thrilling 42-22 victory over bottom side Bath.

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The Chiefs trailed 22-7 two minutes before the interval to a Bath side looking anything but a basement club, and hopes of making a seventh success Premiership final appeared to be slipping away.

However, Exeter showed the character and determination that has been such a bedrock of their success in years gone by to score 35 points without reply.

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The crowd were treated to a pulsating, ding-dong opening 40 minutes, in which the two sides shared six tries.

Exeter winger Tom O’Flaherty blew a golden opportunity to open the scoring when he was tackled just short of the line in the fifth minute and, seven minutes later, Bath centre Max Clark opened up the Chiefs defence and fed Sam Underhill, who sent Joe Cokanasiga over beside the posts, leaving Orlando Bailey with a simple conversion.

Exeter struck right back two minutes later when Joe Simmonds’ long pass found Scotland international full-back Hogg, who drew the last defender before sending in Jacques Vermeulen for a try in the corner, which Simmonds improved.

Bath then took the game by the scruff of the neck with two in six minutes, when Josh Bayliss produced a wonderful step to score in the corner after a pass by Underhill, before Cokanasiga – making his first start of the season – grabbed his second of the game galloping clear after some smart handling in the five-metre channel down the right-hand side, and Bailey converted to make it 22-7.

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However, with Simmonds off the pitch for a head injury assessment after trying to tackle Cokanasiga, Hogg took control.

He made a fine break and when he found himself with no support, he put in an excellent grubber kick that tight-head prop Patrick Schickerling showed amazing speed to get on the end of. He was stopped just short of the line, but Dave Ewers finished off, and with Hogg successfully taking over the kicking duties, Exeter were back in it.

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Then, in first-half injury time, Exeter kicked a penalty to the corner, and from the catch-and-drive, Schickerling burst clear to score, and Hogg’s conversion left Chiefs only trailing by one point at the break at 21-22.

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Bath’s Will Muir had a try ruled out by the television match official very early in the second half for a knock-on, before the same fate befell Exeter’s O’Flaherty after a blocking run by Hogg.

Exeter camped in the Bath 22, piling on the pressure, looking for the score to put them in front for the first time, but the visitors stood firm.

However, with 15 minutes remaining, Exeter edged head with a close-range try by replacement prop Billy Keast, converted by Simmonds, and Hogg and replacement Santiago Grondona crossed for further late tries to seal a priceless victory for the Chiefs.

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