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Devoto makes first start in Premiership

By Western Daily Press  |  Posted: December 29, 2012

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wdsport@bepp.co.uk

Ollie Devoto will make his first Aviva Premiership start for Bath in today's match at Exeter Chiefs (3pm).

The 19-year-old, who usually plays at fly-half, replaces Nick Abendanon at full-back.

Stuart Hooper will be on the bench for the match against his hometown club and is replaced in a new-look second row by Ryan Caldwell, with Dave Attwood coming in for Dominic Day.

Ben Skirving returns from injury at No 8, while Matt Banahan is back from suspension and partners Kyle Eastmond for the first time in the centres.

Hooper wants Bath to maintain their impressive defensive form when they come face-to-face with the Premiership's top try scorers at Sandy Park today.

Exeter Chiefs have crossed the whitewash 29 times in 11 league outings this term, with only champions Harlequins' haul of 27 tries coming anywhere close to that total.

Although Saracens racked up 22 unanswered points at The Recreation Ground last Saturday, they scored just one try as Bath's defence continued to look their most promising asset in this campaign.

Only Sarries have conceded fewer touchdowns than Gary Gold's side, with former England defence coach Mike Ford credited for improving an already stern defensive unit.

"We've had great defence for the last few years but Fordy coming in has really added something to that," said 31-year-old Hooper. "It's pushed us forward a bit and given us the ability to defend in different ways, against different teams in and in different situations.

"It's given us the ability to change the way we do things but we enjoy defending – that's the big thing.

"We enjoy testing ourselves in that area and so far we've done pretty well.

"When your back is to the wall, it's that moment where you can either take five seconds to get up or bounce straight back to your feet and be ready to go.

"That's the time when you learn about each other and who wants to put it in.

"The boys have been fantastic so far and really, really good in those tight situations – everyone has really fronted up."

There was no lesser challenge to Bath's defensive capabilities than when they entertained Exeter in late October.

Only a resolute effort ensured they maintained the only perfect Premiership record against the Chiefs since they were promoted in 2010.

"We did really well at the end against Exeter when we were a man down and defended really well at Leicester as well when we were a number of men down," said Hooper.

"It was an awesome game at The Rec, so much fun to play in. Exeter are the type of side where you know exactly what you are going to get from them. They come at you very hard.

"I never played for Exeter – they were always my rivals as I played for a small club called Crediton – but I enjoy these games, they've got a real derby feel to them. We've had some great games against them in the last couple of years.

"Both sides tend to go out pretty hard and it's a good game to have over the festive period."

Bath: Ollie Devoto, Horacio Agulla, Kyle Eastmond, Matt Banahan, Tom Biggs, Stephen Donald, Michael Claassens; Paul James, Lee Mears, David Wilson, Dave Attwood, Ryan Caldwell, Francois Louw (capt), Guy Mercer, Ben Skirving.

Replacements: Tom Dunn, Charlie Beech, Anthony Perenise, Stuart Hooper, Will Skuse, Mark McMillan, Tom Heathcote, Dan Hipkiss.

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