Hunter hails Exeter's efforts
By Mark Stevens
A week after coming unstuck in the nation’s capital, normal service was resumed for the Exeter Chiefs as they maintained their position at the top of the Gallagher Premiership with a thumping win against Bath at Sandy Park.
Another eight-try victory, another 57 points, it was vintage stuff again from Rob Baxter’s side, who were seeking an immediate response following their last-gasp loss at Harlequins.
Sam Simmonds continued his try-scoring antics with another brace, as did Olly Woodburn, whilst team-mates Tom O’Flaherty, Jannes Kirsten, Elvis Taione and Jack Maunder also got in on the scoring act in another polished display from the Devonians.
Down 29-3 at the break, Bath were much improved after the break and grabbed tries of their own through Zach Mercer, Max Wright and Ruairdh McConnochie, but that was that scant reward on a day when they were distinctly second best to their Westcountry rivals.
The win ensured the Chiefs remain five points clear of next-best Sale Sharks heading into the latest mini break – after which they will return with a home encounter against Leicester Tigers on March 21.
Post-game, forwards coach Rob Hunter gave a glowing assessment of his side’s latest performance.
“I’m very happy,” he said. “As most folk know, I will normally pick my way through games and find things to be grumpy about, but the reality is we put a lot of effort into training this week and again into the game today and we’ve got our results for all that effort.
“Every week you talk about performance being the key thing. I know we got away at the end with a couple of tries, but actually the intensity and the energy we put into that first half, if I’m honest, it was in stark contrast to last week. Take nothing away from Harlequins, they fronted up against us, but we know we didn’t put in the kind of energy levels that we normally expect of ourselves.
“That hurt a bit this week, so it’s nice to see a good training week like we had, get transferred onto the pitch. I can’t speak highly enough of the lads. They put a lot of emotion, a lot energy, and a lot of fight onto the pitch today.”
With the Chiefs having secured the try bonus by half time, Hunter knew there would be a response of sorts from the visitors in the second period. However, it was the Chiefs who started – and finished – the half the stronger to secure a valuable victory.
“It was a very good first half from us and we were really pleased,” added Hunter. “That said, it’s very difficult in that as much as you can say reset to 0-0 guys, it’s not 0-0. At the same time, they go into their changing rooms and they know there is only one way to put things right.
“They came out, they came at us, we made a few errors and a couple of their passes stuck and that allowed them to come back into the game a bit. What pleased us as coaches, though, was how we then went back at it, got a grip of proceedings, and finished strongly.”
As well as the victory, the sight of England and British Lions star Jack Nowell returning to action for the first time since January, was a welcome sight for Hunter and his fellow coaches.
“It’s always good to see Nowellsy lurking around on a pitch,” he continued. “He’s a quality player, as everyone knows, but having someone like him back also has a significant impact on those guys around him. He’s being doing his rebab, he’s worked hard to get back, and now we’re pleased to have him back out there again.
“Having him back, we’re nearly out of the Six Nations as well, there are a few players we’ve got who haven’t played that much and Jack’s one of them. In some ways, every cloud has a silver lining. For Jack, he’s had a mid-season break, he’s refreshed and not too battered about.
“You could say the same with the likes of Harry [Williams], Skins [Sam Skinner], even Sladey and Dickie. We know we’ve got a lot of big games left to play and it all start with Leicester in a few weeks’ time. The guys will have a few days next week to recharge and recovery, after which we will be full on preparing for that next game.”