Derby win delights Hunter
By Mark Stevens
Exeter Chiefs forwards coach Rob Hunter refused to let a disappointing final quarter take the shine off what was a hugely impressive derby day victory over Bath in the Aviva Premiership.
For an hour at least at Sandy Park, the defending champions produced arguably some of their best rugby, brushing aside the attentions of their nearest and dearest at Sandy Park.
Exeter’s six-try success not only allowed them bragging rights over Todd Blackadder’s side for the foreseeable future, but it ensured they remained top of the table heading into the upcoming European break.
Luke Cowan-Dickie, James Short, Mitch Lees and Don Armand ensured the try bonus point was already secured by half time before Thomas Waldrom and Gareth, who converted all six tries, followed suit in the second half.
Bath, who trailed 35-3 at one stage in the second half, rallied well in the last quarter and they brought a modicum of respectability back to the scoreline as they picked off the Chiefs with late tries from Jonathan Joseph, Anthony Watson, Aled Brew and Matt Banahan.
Hunter admitted post-match that those late touchdowns were a disappointing conclusion, but that the overall performance far outweighed the late blip from his side.
“It was a little bit frustrating at the end, but it is tough against a side of that quality, when you have got that far ahead and they can just go for it a little bit, and when you have got Joseph, Rokoduguni, Banahan and Watson against you, you are going to struggle to contain them for 80 minutes,” said Hunter.
“However, the first 50, 60 minutes of the game saw some of the best rugby we have played. Bath are a good side, they have been starting games really, really well and we have actually been finishing games really well, so there was a little bit of a reversal there today.
“It was important that we did get that good start against them, and the boys did look focused across the board. Everybody was passing, everybody was tackling, everybody was clearing out, the set piece was good, our kicking game was good, and it was very pleasing, and I actually just sat back a little bit and I only had three notes for half-time for the lads, and I just told them to get on with it.
“I was a bit nervous to be honest, and I didn’t really sleep last night thinking about this game because Bath have been going very well and they are a team who traditionally we haven’t played very well against.
“We have scraped a couple of wins against them really, and they were the last team to win at Sandy Park in the league, and putting that right was important to us, so you can be a little bit nervy, because sometimes you have sides who get under your skin a little bit, but we were pretty comfortable for a large part of that game.”
Hunter described the concession of a bonus point to Bath as “super annoying”, adding: “I don’t mind conceding the tries as they have got some good players, but it is how they got the ball. We were really loose and that was pretty frustrating, because we chucked a couple of balls away that we would never have thrown in the first 50 minutes.
“Although it doesn’t seem a big deal conceding just one try, that momentum shift then allows them to get on the front foot and to sneak home and get that bonus.
“Internally, that will be tough for some of the guys because we have got a lot of competition for places, so while it was a great performance, those are the little things that make the difference between being picked and not picked, and it is important we keep our own standards high.”
One feature of the Exeter display was the number of different ball carriers the Chiefs could use, with both backs and forwards very prominent in attack.
“We spread the workload really well,” explained Hunter. “With the back line that Bath have got, you need to have the ball and be prepared to hold onto it for long periods because they can hurt you, so it is important to have those carries, but it is also important to make sure you have got the guys who will clear out and glue it all together, and those guys were out there as well.
“To be fair, some of Gareth Steenson’s clearing out today was fantastic, and he just got in there and got the guy out the way and just maintained momentum, and that is an area of the game we are really pleased with.”
Another key part of the game were the excellent performances from those members of the squad who have had limited game time recently due to injury, such as Waldrom, Short, Cowan-Dickie and Alec Hepburn.
“It was the first time that front row has been together for quite a while and I was a little bit nervous about that beforehand, but they were great, and we are in a nice position and we have got a lot of bodies on deck and we got some good time into guys in the A League game at Saracens last weekend,” said Hunter. “We have got some nice selection headaches going into the European double header with Leinster.
“Dave Ewers is up and running; and Matt Kvesic is starting to hit his straps and looked fantastic today, because it does take a bit of time to settle in and learn everything when you join the club because we are quite a complex team, so there is a lot to learn, and our training quality is really high.
“Dave Dennis is not far off returning, and Ollie Devoto is up and running, and we have some good players missing out at the moment, so it is a nice position to be in.”