Dollman calls for Chiefs to raise their game
By Mark Stevens
Phil Dollman says Exeter Chiefs must use the final two rounds of the Gallagher Premiership Rugby regular season to get themselves firing on all cylinders ahead of their last four date in the play-offs later this month.
Rob Baxter’s table-toppers returned to winning ways last weekend with a hard-fought 17-15 victory over Harlequins at Sandy Park, but the Exeter Director of Rugby and his team made no secret of the fact that improvements would be needed in performance ahead of their upcoming semi-final date.
After a blistering opening quarter in which they led 12-0 thanks to tries from Ollie Devoto and Nic White, one of which was converted by fly-half Joe Simmonds, the Chiefs failed to hit the same heights for the remainder of the contest.
Harry Willliams’ try just after the break extended Exeter’s lead to 17-3, before the visitors came storming back with scores of their own through Sam Hidalgo-Clyne and Charlie to leave just two points between the two sides entering into the final few minutes.
Harlequins playmaker Marcus Smith had the chance to land a late penalty for his side, but his effort was off target and the Chiefs were able to stave off some heavy resistance to claim their 16th league win of the season.
Welshman Dollman – making his first Premiership start since February at full-back – admitted he was happy to take the victory, but re-iterated the words of Baxter that the Chiefs would need to be better, starting with this Saturday’s testing away-day at Saracens (3pm).
“We can be better than that,” he said. “There were large periods of the game where Quins’ were in control and that’s the complete opposite of what we like to do. Our aim is always to try and control sets and periods of the game, allowing us to get on top of team, but for large periods out there it was a complete role reversal.
“Thankfully, we were able to battle it out for the win, which is a positive in itself, but we know we have to be better moving forward.”
Having booked their place in the last four in record-breaking time, Baxter understands that his squad are in new territory, but has warned them that they can’t afford to go into the play-offs at half pace.
“We’ve spoken about being in the semi-finals, but we’ve also said it’s important that we try and focus on getting our performance right between then and now,” added Dollman, who is celebrating 10 seasons at the Devon club this year.
“We need to get the nitty-gritty right each week and, if we’re honest, we’ve only down that in patches over the last two games. You have to give credit to Harlequins for the way they played, they are a good side and they made it hard for us, the same as Wasps did, but we have to make sure our performances are for the full 80 minutes.”
With Saracens next up, followed by Northampton Saints on May 18, Dollman says these final two games in the regular season will act as the ideal preparation for whoever they tackle in the play-offs.
“There is no better way to prepare for a semi-final than playing big games in the league,” said Dollman. “Sarries we know are always very strong and Northampton are also going very well, pushing hard for that top four themselves.
“Going up to Sarries this weekend, it should be a good barometer of where we are at. If we can go there and win, then you know you are in a good place. As I said, the big games are coming thick and fast and every side is going at it hammer and tong, we just need to be ready for that challenge.”