Baxter hails side's fighting spirit
By Mark Stevens
Rob Baxter hailed what was a ‘good night’s work’ for his Exeter Chiefs side as they extended their lead at the top of the Gallagher Premiership to 11 points with victory over Bristol Bears.
Billy Keast’s try, two minutes from time, ensured the Devonians maintained their 100 per cent record since restart with a 25-22 success at Ashton Gate.
Earlier, first half tries from Phil Dollman and Sam Hidalgo-Clyne had helped to give the visitors a 15-3 lead at the break, only for the Bears to come storming back with tries of their own through Piers O’Conor, Luke Morahan and Ioan Lloyd.
The Chiefs - who had made 14 changes to their starting line-up from that which beat Sale Sharks last Friday - rallied in the dying embers and it was from close-range that Cornishman Keast was able to squeeze his way over for a maiden top-flight score.
Naturally, Baxter was delighted come the final whistle, stating: “Obviously, I’m very pleased with the result and the performance of our guys.That was a good, hard, physical game of Premiership Rugby where, come the end, we’ve just managed to come over the top of Bristol and secure the win.
“We always knew it was going to be a game with a bit of ebb and flow in it. Even when we were 15-0 up, it never felt like that was going to be final scoreline. At that stage we had done well to frustrate Bristol quite a bit - and they would have felt they hadn’t fired any real shots.
“After half time, the momentum certainly shifted their way and we struggled a little bit up front in that third quarter. However, we finally managed to wheel things back our way - and as it seems to happen between ourselves and Bristol, once again it’s come down to a late score to decide it.
“I’m sure Pat and myself will be hoping it doesn’t always feel like that, I will be hoping we get a more comfortable victory next time and Pat will be hoping they do as well because they are tight old affairs. That said, this is how Premiership Rugby should be between the top two sides.
“What is the perfect scenario for the good of the competition? It’s tough and tight games between the teams at the top of the league and that’s how it turned out today.”
In what was a spirited fightback from the Bears after the break, Baxter acknowledged the part the hosts had played in this entertaining encounter, but it was his own young side - which included three debutants (Josh Hodge, Joe Snow and Harvey Skinner) and a first league start for Hidalgo-Clyne which he was keen to salute.
“We did a couple of things at times which I’d say we’re a lit bit un Chiefs-like,” he added. “But, now we’ve got some really good video to review with the lads and talk through certain parts of the game. What you have to remember is that some of those points come from guys who haven’t played too many minutes at this level, but on the whole it was a good night’s work and again we’ve gained some very valuable league points.”
With Worcester Warriors next up for the Chiefs at Sandy Park this Sunday (3pm), Baxter is refusing to get too carried away with things, insisting there is still plenty more for him and his players to work on between now and the end of the season.
“I think these first three games show we are well set, our fundamentals are good, our foundations elements are good, and that we have a squad who can be competitive. However, there are very few teams who are running full strength teams at the moment. That wasn’t Bristol’s full strength unit, people may say they had more of their recognised names out than ours.
“As coaches we always know there are plusses and minuses to every decision you try and make, so at the moment I’d say it’s a bit of a phoney war in a sense. What it’s more about is getting good game minutes into players and collecting enough points to ensure you are where you want to be, because all know there are some huge games of knockout rugby coming up shortly.”
Had more game mins in their legs which told a bit, we had thrown a lot of effort and endeavour into the first half, conditions favoured us first half and them second,