Hard-fought win delights Baxter
By Mark Stevens
Rob Baxter praised his Exeter Chiefs side as they kicked off 2019 in the Gallagher Premiership with a hard-fought victory over visiting Bristol Bears.
The Devonians extended their lead at the top of the table over defending champions Saracens to four points thanks to converted tries from Santiago Cordero and Sean Lonsdale in a 14-9 triumph at Sandy Park.
Irish international fly-half Ian Madigan slotted three penalties for the visitors, who proved a tough nut to crack for the Chiefs in this Round 12 encounter.
In a contest that served up few highlights, Baxter preferred to concentrate on a ‘job well done’ by his players.
“One thing you have to get you head around is, you only have to look at this Premiership to see how competitive it is, how teams can beat each other, and how they can score again each other,” said the Chiefs’ Director of Rugby. “And that actually any win in the Premiership is a decent win.
“That’s one thing that our lads have to settle down and get their heads around because a few of them get caught up in the kind of notion that if you are a team, who’ve had a bit of success over a couple of seasons, that victories should just come. Sadly, it doesn’t work like that.
“The Premiership is very competitive, Bristol are playing well - with lots of confidence and not a lot of baggage - and they came here today to try and win, so you have to play well to beat them.For me, I’m pleased we got a win today.
“As I’ve just said to the lads, every win is a precious thing, which you have to work hard for, but every game is going to be like this. It shouldn’t be a shock if the game is still tight after 60 minutes, it should be close. That is where you use some of kind of bravery, skill or hard work to come through it, which is what we’ve done today.
“Have we got things to work on? Of course we have.
“There were too many mistakes out there for me to sit here now and say there wasn’t anything to work on. That said, every team has things to work on. Bristol have things to work, Saracens have things to work on after last night, and we would still have things to work on had we won by 30 points today. The important thing is to move on quickly, whether it’s a win or a loss, and deal with the things you can.”
Well, the Chiefs do have to move on and next up for them is their final two pool games in the Heineken Champions Cup against Castres (next Sunday) and Munster (January 19).
Baxter knows nothing less than two victories will suffice if his side stand any chance of reaching the knock-out stages of Europe this season. It is, however, two challenges that he and his players must relish.
“We will have a completely different mental challenge next week against Castres because I’d imagine it will bring out a level of intensity on top of today that we would expect going into those games. But, as I’ve just said to the lads downstairs, you should also make sure you’re excited about today’s game.”
Exeter’s 10th league win of the season means they are now 18 points clear of third-placed Gloucester, who they will tackle next when the Premiership kicks back into life again in mid-February. Baxter believes, however, that having victories and points in the bag now will be key, particularly during the Six Nations Championship when he expects to lose a number of his international stars.
“100 per cent it sets us nicely for next week [against Castres],” said Baxter. “But we’ve also got a massively challenging fixture list coming up, especially during what is a now a long Six Nations period. We could have at least eight players away during that time.
“We have to go to Worcester, who will be fighting for their lives; we have to go to Sale and we saw how good they were last night; and we’ve got to go Gloucester on a Friday night, on a short turnaround, so it’s going to really test us. That’s why today was a massively important game for us, which we’ve locked down, got four points, and has created a little bit more space to third.
“What the win also allows is that we can now put our full focus into these next two Heineken Cup games and then how we can pull our resources going into those games during the Six Nations.”