Junior's joy at late win
By Mark Stevens
Samoan star Junior Poluleuligaga was full of praise for his team-mates as Exeter Braves kicked off the defence of their Aviva Premiership A League crown with a last-gasp victory over Bath United at Sandy Park.
Having trailed 26-8 at the break, the Braves produced a much-improved second half display to record a dramatic 30-29 success thanks to Luke Treharne's last-minute penalty.
The 31-year-old scrum-half played a key part in Exeter's title-winning side of last team and was delighted to see the new season kick-off on a winning note.
"We weren't so good in the first half, but the second half was an awesome effort from the whole crew," said the skipper. "To get away with a win like that at home was pretty impressive and I'm proud of the boys."
In a dismal opening to the game, the Braves not only conceded a handful of penalties to gift Bath an early advantage, but they also lost French centre Nic Sestaret to the sin-bin for a late tackle.
Although Myles Dorrian finally got the home side up and running with a penalty, Bath continued to dominate proceedings punishing the Braves with first half tries from Alex Brown, Josh Ovens and Olly Woodburn.
Exeter centre Jack Nowell countered with a touchdown of his own, but that was a rare bright spot in a sluggish first period for the defending champions.
But if the first half was disastrous, the second was a different story all together as the Braves hit back with a penalty try and further efforts from Ben White and Jack Arnott.
Even then the Braves were still behind entering into the final minute, but when Bath conceded penalty 30 metres from goal, up stepped replacement Treharne to drill over a match-winning kick.
"It was definitely a slow start from us and we made a lot of silly errors," added Poluleuligaga. "The boys showed a lot of energy early on, but we were putting all of it into the wrong areas and we were getting penalised too much. Thankfully we sorted it in the second half.
"At half-time we didn't panic, we knew what we were capable of and it was just a matter of keeping calm, staying focused and making sure we had clear points of what we wanted to achieve."
Whatever was said in the home changing rooms, it clearly had the desired effect as the Braves responded in fine fashion.
Indeed, Poluleuligaga admitted the team's desire to pick up on last season's impressive form was one of the reason why they dug deep.
"We set the benchmark last year of how we would approach these games," he added. "We treat these games like a first team game and we wanted to carry on that attitude into this year.
"I think we were all inspired from the first team performance [against Sale]. The boys wanted to continue in the same way as those guys. Right now it's a great environment to be in at Exeter. There are big things ahead for the club and we're all excited about it."
The victory also allowed a number of the Exeter players, including Poluleuligaga - who had to fill in at fly-half for a large part of the game - the chance to impress in front of watching coaches Rob Baxter and Ali Hepher.
"Thankfully we have this competition to put our hand up and show Rob and Ali that we are ready and up for the challenge," continued Poluleuligaga. "All of us knew the first half wasn't great, but if we play like we did in the second half, then Rob is sure to have some hard decisions in selection."
The Braves continue their A League programme this Monday when they travel to Old Albanians to face Saracens Storm in a 5pm kick-off.