Lees expects Chiefs response
By Mark Stevens
Mitch Lees says Exeter Chiefs must show a greater ‘mental edge’ over the second half of the Gallagher Premiership season.
Although the Devonians find themselves top of the tree at the halfway stage, a point clear of defending champions Saracens, and 15 points clear of next-best Gloucester, the Australian acknowledged tougher tests lie in store, starting with this Saturday’s visit of near neighbours Bristol Bears to Sandy Park (3pm).
In what was their final outing of 2018, Rob Baxter’s side were given a dose of what to expect between now and the end of the campaign when Northampton Saints inflicted a second league defeat of the season on the Chiefs, winning their tussle 31-28 at a packed Franklin’s Gardens.
A fast-start from the home side gave them a 14-0 lead and although the Chiefs clawed that deficit back, plus further scores during the contest, they left themselves to much to do and were forced to settle for two losing bonus points when No.8 Matt Kvesic stole over for a fourth try with the last play of the game.
“It wasn’t our finest performance and the lads are pretty down,” said a frustrated Lees at the final whistle.“There were a lot of self-error mistakes out there, myself included, and we know we are a lot better than what we showed.
“Northampton had a strong start, especially that first 10-15 minutes. I wouldn’t say they caught us by surprise, we expected them to start well as they normally Dom, but we didn’t start to the level we expect or the level we had produced against Sarries the previous week.
“We produced a lot of defensive errors, we turned over ball, and we just didn’t really get going. The errors, it seemed, just to snowball as the game went on and that really stopped us getting any real momentum into the game.”
Although the Chiefs dominated in certain areas of the game - the scrum in particular - they could not turn their pressure into points and Lees says some tough-talking this week should help to rectify those issues ahead of this weekend’s impending derby clash.
“We’re disappointed, of course, but the overall mood is still pretty positive,” added Lees. “We’ve had a strong first half to the season and we’re in a very good position at the halfway stage. But, just as Rob mentioned, aside from ourselves and Sarries who are in a good position at the top, every other side is fighting to stay alive in the competition.
“That’s something we have to be aware of moving forward and our mental edge needs to be stronger. We’ve had a few blips in the last few weeks, but each time the response has been good from us. Sometimes you need those little kicks up the ass to re-ignite things, but at the moment they are happening every couple of weeks and that really needs to stop.
“As I said, we need to build on what we’ve done so far. We’ve got 11 games left in the regular season, so we’ve got to push as hard as we can in not only those games, but in Europe as well and the other competitions.”