Baxter's delight at victory
By Mark Stevens
Delighted Exeter Chiefs head coach Rob Baxter described his side's showing as a "squad effort" after they swept aside visiting Sale Sharks 43-6 in their opening Aviva Premiership encounter at Sandy Park.
In a powerful display from the Westcountry outfit, Sale simply had no answers to the rampant Chiefs who ran in a total of six tries through Ignacio Mieres, Aly Muldowney, Matt Jess (2), Tom Johnson (pictured) and Chris Budgen.
Mieres banged over a further eight points, whilst fellow fly-half Gareth Steenson landed a late conversion. In response, Nick MacLeod plundered two penalties for the visitors, but that was their scant reward as they toiled in the Devon heat.
Afterwards, Baxter admitted it was a dream start for his side, who have now won all five top flight meetings between the two clubs. He said: ""You get the first result of the season and I think the first thing from a coaching perspective you feel is a bit of relief.
"We had a nice finish to last season where we were comfortable and got after games, we have kind of taken off in the same manner which is pleasing.
"To collect five points on the opening day and not concede a try in the process means a lot of things must have gone right for us out there. I don't mind saying points on the board is a big relief. You spend a lot of time preparing for these games and a lot of worrying goes on, but in the end we were determined to play and come out here and enjoy ourselves, which I think we did very well."
With the Sharks under new director of rugby Bryan Redpath and buoyed by summer signings Eifion Lewis-Roberts, Richie Gray, Corne Uys and Danny Cipriani, Baxter knew ahead of kick-off that his team would face a sizeable threat in this seasonal opener.
"The scoreline properly doesn't reflect how competitive the game really was," added Baxter. "Nearly every area was very competitive, but we came through with some crucial scores at the right time and then we managed to push on in the second half. You have to give great credit to our players, we said we would be competitive in everything we did - and I thought today we were. It was what I would call a good, solid match-winning performance."
Although the first half was keenly contested, it was Exeter's second half showing that was so impressive as they added four touchdowns after the break. And Baxter wasted little time in praising his assistant, Ali Hepher, for the hard work he has played in creating the club's attacking platform.
"We have worked on a few things over the summer and when you see us start seeing us score tries, you can see the good work that Ali Hepher is putting in," said the coach. "He often doesn't get talked about round here too much, but the truth is he works exceptionally hard and he's made a lot of good things happen here at the club. When you see some of the good, snappy stuff happen, that's come about from the work we've done in pre-season.
"Now we've moved that into that intense match situation and I thought we got better as the game went on, so that bodes well for the future as well. Obviously once you get a couple of scores up and a team has to come back at you the shape of the game changes. As it opened up we managed to exploit some opportunities. That said, great credit to our players because they had to work extremely hard for a long time to make those cracks appear.
"For me that was a real squad effort out there today and it had all the Exeter core values and that we talk about."
And while the Chiefs were impressive, Redpath warned his players that Sale would have been beaten by any team in the league on that display.
He said: "It wasn't good enough. Against any team in the Premiership that wouldn't have been good enough. There are no hiding places, there were too many individual errors across the board from lots of people.
"I wouldn't single anyone out, we all have to take it on board. We have to take the criticism that comes because quite rightly it deserves to come.
"We've got Saracens next Saturday at home. We can't forget about this but we can't dwell on it either - we have to man up and take the criticism and then show a performance next weekend that's a lot better than that."
It was a difficult return to English rugby for Cipriani, who came on for the injured Sam Tuitupou on the half hour but struggled to impose himself on the game.
However Redpath refused to blame the mercurial fly-half, insisting it was the team as a whole who disappointed.
He added: "He never got a chance. Danny's game is about hopefully getting possession on the front foot and we didn't get any of that. It's not any individual, as a collective unit we weren't good enough. It was a hugely disappointing performance and we got what we deserved."