Four Bath tries in the final 14 minutes rather took the gloss off what had been an outstanding Exeter Chiefs performance as they stretched their lead at the top of the Aviva Premiership table to eight points.
Bath, who turned up at Sandy Park in third place in the table and with only one defeat in their previous nine games in all competitions, were blown away by the Premiership leaders in the opening hour.
Given the quality of the opposition, the Chiefs served up some of the best rugby they have produced in their eight years in the top flight to lead 35-3, and they looked on course to hit the 50-point mark against a side who they usually struggle to beat.
However, with one eye no doubt on next Sunday’s home European Champions Cup clash at home to Leinster, they ran their bench, the intensity levels dropped off, and Bath showed what a class act they can be with four tries to take home what had seemed a very unlikely try-scoring bonus point – and who knows how crucial that could be come the end of the regular season in determining top-four places?
It was frustrating for the Chiefs, who for around an hour had delivered a complete team performance, with backs and forwards heavily involved.
They had willing ball carriers all over the pitch as front rowers Alec Hepburn and Luke Cowan-Dickie made their first Premiership starts of the season after injury problems, while Jack Nowell came off the bench fairly early in the second half after missing England’s autumn internationals with a fractured eye socket and cheekbone.
The Chiefs were relentless in attack in the opening 35 minutes, running in four tries against a Bath side who the previous week had registered their own try-scoring bonus point inside the opening 19 minutes against Harlequins at The Rec.
Cowan-Dickie scored an early try under the posts after Hepburn had initially broken the defensive line, and that was swiftly followed by a second from winger James Short after a wonderful hand-off.
Two more pick-and-go moves provided tries from close range by forwards Mitch Lees and Don Armand, and with Gareth Steenson in his usual immaculate goalkicking form, Exeter led 28-3. Bath’s only points – a Freddie Burns penalty – had come sandwiched in between the four tries, and it was a sign of visiting skipper Matt Garvey’s desire to at least get some sort of foothold in the game against such an onslaught that he opted for the posts, when in usual circumstances at 14-0 down, he would probably have kicked to the corner instead.
It did Bath little good as the Chiefs started the second half as they had 0ended the first, with No.8 Thomas Waldrom getting the try his tremendous efforts deserved after showing some nice footwork, and Steenson improved the score for an eye-rubbing 35-3 advantage.
Only a superb try-saving tackle by England full-back Anthony Watson on Short prevented another score, and when centre Jonathan Joseph pounced on a loose ball to go over for a try in the 66th minute, it looked like being nothing more than scant consolation for the visitors, converting the touchdown himself.
That certainly seemed the case when Steenson was the popular scorer of his side’s sixth try, which he converted to maintain his 100 per cent record on the day and give him a personal 17-point haul in the match, before making way soon after for young Joe Simmonds.
However, Bath are a very dangerous animal when play is loose and they capitalised with three late tries to ease the pain for their travelling fans.
Watson, winger Aled Brew and replacement Matt Banahan with the last play of the game, all scored in the final seven minutes, with Rhys Priestland converting two to bring an unexpected ending to a hugely entertaining West Country derby.
Exeter Chiefs: Tries: Cowan-Dickie, Short, Lees, Armand, Waldrom, Steenson; Cons: Steenson (6).
Exeter Chiefs: P Dollman, O Woodburn, I Whitten, S Hill (J Nowell 55), J Short, G Steenson (capt) (J Simmonds 73), N White (W Chudley 67), A Hepburn (B Moon 55), L Cowan-Dickie (J Yeandle 49), H Williams (G Holmes 59), M Lees, S Skinner, D Armand (J Hill 63), M Kvesic, T Waldrom (S Simmonds 56).
Bath: Tries: Joseph, Watson, Brew, Banahan; Cons: Joseph, Priestland (2); Pen: Burns.
Bath: A Watson, S Rokoduguni (M Banahan 55), J Joseph, B Tapuai, A Brew, F Burns (R Priestland 63), K Fotuali’i (C Cook 50), B Obano (N Auterac 50), T Dunn (M Van Vuuren 55), A Perenise (M Lahiff 50), C Ewels (J Phillips 34), L Charteris (E Stooke 63), M Garvey (capt), Z Mercer, P Grant.
Attendance: 12,384. Referee: JP Doyle (RFU).