Hunter happy to take maximum reward

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Exeter Chiefs forwards coach Rob Hunter was delighted to see his side secure a fifth successive play-off place, but says tougher tests lie ahead in the coming weeks. Pictures:

By Mark Stevens

Exeter Chiefs forwards coach Rob Hunter admitted it was points, not performance, that mattered most after his side saw off visiting Gloucester at Sandy Park on Wednesday night.

The table-topping Chiefs not only secured a 35-22 victory, courtesy of tries from Luke Cowan-Dickie, Jonny Hill, Sam Simmonds, Ian Whitten and Jack Maunder, but at the same time they ensured themselves of a top four finish for the fifth successive season.

Now, according to Hunter, the aim over the final three games of the regular season (against Saracens, London Irish and Wasps) will be to ensure that they bag themselves home advantage as they set their sights on returning to Twickenham in the end of season showpiece.

Six victories out of six since the top flight started last month has put the Devonians in control of their own destiny, but they were made to work hard in this latest encounter by a youthful Gloucester outfit.

"Fair play to Gloucester, they were very physical tonight and they really got after our ball-carriers at times tonight," said Hunter. "What hurt them at times was they coughed up a few soft penalties which gave us the chance to claim decent field position - and that's often a bit risky against us. That said, they were very competitive throughout."

Indeed, the Cherry & Whites, under new head coach George Skivington, were battling throughout and tries from Matt Banahan (2) and Josh Gray gave them plenty of positives to take back up the road at the final whistle.

Although not quite at their fluid best, the Chiefs still had enough about them to secure another maximum haul.

"We're a little bit disappointed with certain aspects of our game," added Hunter. "We probably didn't maintain performance levels throughout the whole game, but it's difficult to do that all the time. What it proves is we are human, contrary to some of the things that have been said and written about us recently.

"Whilst we weren't brilliant, it was still five points in the Premiership, and you can't get any more that that!

"For us, collecting points each game, especially going into some big weeks with quarter-finals and semi-finals on the horizon, is a key factor."

The fact, however, that the Chiefs have again become the first side to secure their top four billing underlines the work that has been put in by Rob Baxter's side during the course of this current campaign.

A fifth successive semi-final is another excellent achievement, but Hunter is keen for the club to push on further and look to replicate their title success of 2017.

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Exeter Chiefs centre Henry Slade takes on the Gloucester defence last night

"It would be nice to be winning things," he added. "Although this will be our fifth semi-final, we've only one trophy to show for all of that. I'd much prefer to be a bit scrappier and win something, rather than fairly successful and no trophy in the cabinet.

"At the moment, we're just concentrating on improving all the time and getting as many lads as possible competitive and in good order to play, so that who is asked to step up in those big games is ready to go."

Next up for the Chiefs is Sunday's trip to rivals Saracens, the team who have beaten them in three of the last four Premiership finals at Twickenham.

The Londoners won't be contesting the big prize this season, they have already been relegated after being found guilty of breaching salary cap regulations, but the rivalry between the two clubs remains as fierce as ever.

"It's a strange one really," said Hunter. "The way the fixtures have dropped and with both sides in Europe next week, it's going to be interesting. Looking at how we've selected and how they've done likewise, I think both have an eye on next week, so I'm guessing it will be too evenly matched sides.

"That said, it's a Premiership game between ourselves and Saracens, so whichever team takes to the field, I'd imagine there will be some fireworks." 

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