Baxter reacts after narrow win at Saints
By Mark Stevens
Exeter Chiefs Director of Rugby, Rob Baxter, insists lessons would be learnt in the wake of his side’s narrow 26-29 victory over Northampton Saints in the Gallagher Premiership.
Down 18-0 against a 14-man Saints outfit at the break, the defending champions had to dig deep into their reserves to salvage all five points from their trip to Franklin’s Gardens.
Second half tries from Sam Skinner, Stuart Hogg, Stu Townsend and Ollie Devoto were the highlights for the visitors, who other points came from the boot of skipper Joe Simmonds.
However, the Chiefs were up against at the interval having been outgunned by a powerful Northampton side, who had lost lock David Ribbans to a red card inside the opening quarter of the contest. Two tries from Rory Hutchinson and eight points from Dan Biggar had put them in the box seat at that time.
The Chiefs, though, used the half time break to regroup and they emerged for the second half a much-improved unit, eventually swotting aside the threat of Chris Boyd’s men.
“Obviously, the five points is the crucial thing,” said Baxter. “The first half was one type of performance, whilst the second was a completely separate type of performance. Firstly, you have to congratulate Northampton and their crowd, which despite limited numbers, it was fantastic atmosphere here today.
“From our own perspective, we didn’t really turn up ready to fight in that first half. That was pretty clear wasn’t it?
Things in our game were noticeably poor and we quickly went off script. That said, we managed to get back on track in that second half and we decided to fight.
“As everyone knows, we’re a good team and we’re not second in the table for no reason. We’re in that position because we are good when we follow the plan. When we started to do that today, being hard and physical, that’s when we started to make a real difference. We didn’t do any of that in the first half and that will be the things the lads have to push themselves about.”
As ever, there was no real panic stations within the Chiefs camp as they headed for the changing rooms at the break and Baxter was quick to state that a quick refocus of their goals helped to steady the ship.
“It was interesting that even though we were 18 points down, the last thing I said to the players as they went out again was ‘get two scores and we’re almost back to even pegging’. As it proved, we did just that. We then had another little wobble for ten minutes, but fortunately we were able to wrestle things back enough to win the game.”
The victory means the Chiefs remain in the top two with just one round of the regular season remaining. Next up for them is Saturday’s visit of Sale Sharks, the side who could ultimately pip them to home advantage in the last four.
For that to happen, however, they must secure a five-point win at Sandy Park, whilst at the same time denying the Chiefs any reward of their own.
“We’re still in the box seat, which is where we want to be,” added Baxter. “Sale now have to come to us and get everything from the game, whilst at the same time denying us. I’m not saying they are not capable of doing that, especially if we turn up like that first half, but I don’t expect us perform like that again.
“For the neutral, that was probably an incredible game to watch, whilst for us as coaches it was absolutely horrendous. Now, we’ve got to use this next week as best we can, turnaround quickly and get ready for what will be another huge challenge this Saturday. In a lot of ways, I think this game will serve us well because it’s the kick up the pants we needed at this time.”