Baxter reflects on Wasps loss
By Mark Stevens
Rob Baxter had few complaints after watching his Exeter Chiefs side slip to a rare home defeat in the Gallagher Premiership against Wasps on Sunday.
The Midlanders recorded their first-ever victory at Sandy Park as they became the first side in 14 months to down the Devonians on their own patch in the league.
Worcester Warriors were the last side to do it in February 2018 and Dai Young’s side were good value for this latest triumph, securing all five points in a 26-19 victory.
All had started well enough for the Chiefs, who led 12-0 after the first quarter thanks to tries from Jack Nowell and Nic White, the second of which was converted by fly-half Joe Simmonds.
However, the home side - who came into the game knowing they had already banked home advantage in next month’s end of season play-offs - then preceded to allow their rivals back into the game, Wasps stinging the Chiefs with tries from Willie Le Roux, Juan de Jongh and Marcus Watson to lead 21-12 at the break.
Baxter’s side looked to haul themselves back into the contest early in the second half, but it was Wasps who extended their lead, grabbing the bonus point through prop Zurabi Zhvania.
Replacement Jack Yeandle grabbed Exeter’s third try in the final ten minutes to set up an exciting finale, but try as they may the Chiefs were unable to add to their advantage and it was Midlanders who were left celebrating at the final whistle.
Post-match, a philosophical Baxter reflected on his side’s showing, saying: “I always think you should give credit to the winning team in this scenario. It’s easy to start talking about yourself and bleat about what you got wrong, but Wasps have come here with an awful lot to fight for and I think they showed that in the way they played today. Ultimately, they fought longer, harder and stronger than we did for the majority of the game.
“When we look back at the game ’Have we been our own worst enemy?’Certainly for the first half we were. It was really our own errors that led to their tries. Normally we often create the pressure that forces those mistakes on opposition sides, but for whatever reason we didn’t do that out there today.
“We started brightly enough in a way that got us some points up on the board, but we didn’t ever look comfortable. We never looked our forceful or controlled selves, and we gave up a lot of ball which put us under pressure with the way Wasps counter-attacked. I thought they looked comfortable with ball in hand and taking us on in those little short bursts of pressure. They did it very well and in the end we have come up short.”
Baxter continued: “I am not going to say it wasn’t a little bit expected because for any team to qualify for the semi-finals like we did, then get the home semi-final as we did, at some stage we were going to draw breath.
“Now this has happened, we have to go and reset ourselves, both mentally and physically.I actually think we will do that, but sometimes you need something like today to get that focus back. Last week at Leicester we were laser-sharp in our focus. Today, we weren’t and we paid the price for that.
“Only time will tell if this was what we needed. If we end up winning the Premiership, we could look back and say this was a defining moment for us, but if we react to this wrongly now it could be a very poor situation for us. On the whole, I think it will be a good thing for us. We’ve got most of the week off this week, we need to review this game, put it to bed, and almost think of the things that have happened and the qualities we didn’t show today.If we get that all sorted, then I’ve no worries about us moving forward.
“As I said to the lads, we just have to get our heads down and get some hard work done. There is no magic to why we are top, the guys have trained and played very well. They are a good set of guys, so it’s still there for us. We are still a good team, still capable of winning Premiership games, so let’s get it right in two weeks’ time when Harlequins come here.”