First half cost us - Baxter
By Mark Stevens
Rob Baxter refused to be too downbeat despite seeing his Exeter Chiefs side kick-off the New Year with a 28-20 loss at Newcastle Falcons.
The reigning Aviva Premiership champions suffered only their third league defeat of the season at Kingston Park, meaning their lead at the top of the table was cut down to five points after next-best Saracens won at Wasps.
A ferocious first half display from the Falcons saw them lead 25-3 at the turn, thanks in the main to tries from Sinoti Sinoti, Vereniki Goneva and Kyle Cooper.
Although the Chiefs were much improved after the break, scoring three tries of their own through Sam Simmonds, Olly Woodburn and Toby Salmon, a last-gasp penalty from Newcastle replacement Joel Hodgson denied the visitors of picking up any kind of reward for the first time in 33 top flight fixtures.
Post-match, Director of Rugby Baxter conceded his side had left themselves with “too much to do” after an error-ridden first 40 minutes in which the Falcons capitalised on virtually every mistake by the Chiefs.
“I thought Newcastle played well,” said Baxter. “We weren’t at our best in the first half in a number of ways and the errors we came up with, Newcastle did very well to pounce on pretty much every one of them. You have to give them great credit for that.Today, they were bang on point in a lot of what they did and we were a little off, especially in that first half, and we left ourselves too much to do.”
Although disappointed with the end outcome, Baxter insisted his side would review the contest fully and that moving forward lessons would be learnt.
“I’m not going to make too big a deal about it,” he added. “Sometimes you can throw a lot of energy into a game without doing the little bits and pieces right. I’m sure when e break the game down on Tuesday, I think we will see too many individual moments where we didn’t quite get things right like we do normally.
“We let our maul get disrupted, we missed tackles, we tried to force offloads that weren’t really on, there were various other things as well. Normally what makes us a good side is that we link our game together pretty well. Today, we didn’t do that and we paid for it.
“Yes, we’ll have a tough review process over the next few days, both individually and collectively, but we’ll then get on with things. We have lost in the Premiership before and still won the league, so I’m not overly concerned about it. We know where a lot of the issues stem from today and we’ll go away and try to rectify them this week.”
With the Premiership set for a break due to European and Anglo-Welsh Cup commitments, the Chiefs can still sit safe in the knowledge that they remain in a key position moving forward.
Baxter concluded: “The Premiership, as we all know, is massively competitive. We shouldn’t think we can underperform like we did today and still expect to hold a ten-point gap, because that’s simply never going to happen. You have to be at your best every week in this division and today we weren’t.
“Perhaps it’s a good little reminder, a good little kick in the pants, that you have to be prepared to work hard for everything you want. Right now we’ll take this on the chin and we’ll focus on being better next time we play.”