Angry Baxter bemoans defeat
By Mark Stevens
A bit like the Incredible Hulk, you wouldn’t like to see him angry.
However, as Rob Baxter emerged for his post-match press conference, Exeter’s commander in chief was still seething with rage at what he had just seen.
His anger - it has to be said - was somewhat two-fold. Firstly, at his own side’s first half display, one in which they didn’t really ever hit second gear and secondly, more importantly, the performance of referee Matt Carley (pictured below) and his fellow officials.
Left bemused by a clutch of decisions throughout the contest, which the Tigers eventually won 31-27, Baxter rightly expressed his displeasure at some of Carley’s end calls, but also went some way to admitting his side had not been diddled out of a victory.
“My biggest frustration, I guess, is with ourselves,” said Baxter. “I thought for large parts of that game Leicester outplayed us and that’s what made it hard for us. I have just said to the lads in there now, Premiership games are very precious things and I actually think we wasted half a game of Premiership rugby here today.
“Don’t get me wrong, Leicester deserve great credit for the way they started and the pressure they put us under, but to see us look so fragile with ball in hand, like we did in the first half, was very disappointing.
“Ultimately a lot of the pressure we got put under in the first half started with us having the ball, but then we started doing some silly things. We didn’t look comfortable with ball in hand, we looked like we were happy to pass it to someone else and not really take the game for ourselves. Thankfully, we cured that at half time and we were much better in the second half.”
Indeed, the Chiefs bounced back from trailing 31-6 at one stage to rescue what could be a vital losing bonus point thanks to tries from Dave Lewis, Ian Whitten and Kai Horstmann, all of which were converted by fly-half Gareth Steenson, who also slotted two penalties for the visitors.
Horstmann’s last-gasp score at least brought a glimmer of a smile from Baxter, who earlier in the game could only watch on as the Tigers claimed their bonus point triumph thanks to a penalty try and further touchdowns from Manu Tuilagi, Peter Betham and Adam Thompstone.
Fly-half Freddie Burns kicked the remainder of the points for the Tigers, whose five-point haul helped to lift them back into the play-off picture.
Exeter’s cause was not helped on the day with both Geoff Parling and Matt Jess both sent to the sin-bin at various stages, but Baxter was at a loss why Burns did not tread a similar path when he appeared to blatantly deny the Chiefs a scoring chance in the second half.
Baxter added: “There were some really odd things going on out there and what bothers me most is the TMO is there to help assist the referee do things well, yet actually a couple of big things that happened out there, not one out of the four officials has seen.
“I think it was Freddie Burns - with us going in two on one in the corner - who slaps the ball down and it doesn’t even get called what the penalty is for.
“At times I almost couldn’t work out what was going on. The TMO was saying there is a penalty try and there and someone is offside, yet we didn’t even get a penalty. Yes it’s difficult, but you also have to see what processes they are going through because it did seem an odd passage of a few minutes in that corner.”
Baxter’s continued: “I don’t expect Matt Carley to referee something he hasn’t seen, I don’t think any Director of Rugby would want them to do that, but what we want them to do is referee the game as they see it.
“Then you have the TMO and ARs to assist you with the things they don’t see. That’s the bit I am little bit shady with at the moment, I don’’t quite know who has seen what and who has not seen anything, but you’ve got TV trucks and replays, so what was the whole scenario going on there?
“Until I see the TV footage, listen to the ref mic and what the TMO was coming in with, I won’t be able to say exactly what it was, but it just seems a bit odd.”