Baxter's ready for the off
By Mark Stevens
Exeter Chiefs head coach Rob Baxter says he and his team are "ready to start" after they wrapped up their pre-season programme with a 15-6 away win over Glasgow Warriors on Friday night.
The Chiefs followed up their 56-3 demolition of the Cornish Pirates the week previous by dogging out another success against their Scottish hosts, who have been buoyed ahead of kick-off by the return of six of their internationals stars.
In a tight first half in which defences ruled supreme, it was the Warriors who led 3-0 thanks to a penalty from fly-half Duncan Weir.
That lead, however, proved short-lived as within minutes of the restart, the Chiefs moved in front for the first time when hooker Chris Whitehead was able to burrow his way over from close range following good work from his fellow forwards.
The normally reliable Ignacio Mieres failed with the conversion and a number of penalty shots on a tricky night for the Argentine ace, but Weir showed how he should be done when he doubled his tally midway through the half when he fired over a second kick from wide on the left touchline.
Although behind entering into the final quarter, Baxter's side continued to pose the greater threat. As the pressure mounted from the Aviva Premiership club, so the gaps in the home defence began to appear more regularly.
Indeed, it came as no surprise when yet more powerful work from the Exeter eight saw them create the opening for replacement lock James Hanks to find his way over for their second try, which Gareth Steenson converted with aplomb to make it 12-6.
The Irishman then added a late penalty for the Chiefs with the last kick of the game to give the visitors a winning outcome to take into their seasonal opener against Sale Sharks next Saturday.
"It was another really good workout for the boys," remarked Baxter afterwards. "It was always going to be a test of character for the players, especially because we travelled on the day, the game was moved out of Glasgow to Ayr, and because we almost had to go back to an old school mentality.
"What we challenged the players with beforehand was that it wasn't got to be like a normal match-day and that they would have to adapt differently. It wasn't a massive crowd like normal, it wasn't a fantastic surface, but it was about two teams playing a game or rugby and seeing who wanted it the most. That is what we said to the guys and I thought they came through massively with a characteristic display that I expect from Exeter players."
Even the loss of prop Hoani Tui to injury during the warm-up did little to dampen the Chiefs, who this season will be combing playing in English rugby's top flight alongside that of Europe's elite in the Heineken Cup.
And Baxter says after weeks of hard graft both on the training field and in the three warm-up fixtures, his side is now ready to tackle the demands of both competitions full on.
"We know the Premiership is a tough competition," he added. "Pre-season is all about getting your team well prepared, fit and strong and looking at them to displaying the right attitude. If I'm honest, right now there is not much more we can do in terms of our preparation. I don't think the players can display a better attitude than they have shown in playing or in training, so all in all that makes me a happy man.
"Adding all those things up, I'm a happy man right now. Our aim now will be to go flat out into Sale and takes what comes. That is what we do every week and it's what we've said every year since we got promoted into the Premiership."