No complaints from Baxter after defeat
By Mark Stevens
Exeter Chiefs Director of Rugby Rob Baxter had no complaints about a dramatic finale at Sandy Park after his Gallagher Premiership champions were beaten 13-12 by Northampton Saints.
Chiefs lock Sam Skinner’s 80th-minute try meant that fly-half Joe Simmonds had a chance to snatch victory with the game’s final kick – a touchline conversion attempt into a gusting wind.
But Simmonds did not even put boot to ball as several Northampton players ran towards him in an attempt to charge down the kick, and he was suitably distracted, appearing non-plussed as Saints wing Ollie Sleightholme hacked the ball into touch.
A number of Chiefs players remonstrated with referee Christophe Ridley, but he had already blown the final whistle and Northampton could celebrate their first victory at Sandy Park since 2014.
“As far as I can tell, I think ‘Simmo’ moved, they charged and that’s what you are allowed to do,” said Baxter. “Until I watch the video I don’t know, but in a lot of ways it is irrelevant to me.
“It is not the referee’s decision at the end which has decided that game. We’ve not taken our opportunities, which is a little bit uncharacteristic of us, and you have to give Northampton massive credit for how they fought on their try-line.
“We weren’t bang on. There are a few things we can look at. It was a tough game of rugby, Northampton played their part in it, and we have come up a shade short.
“Sometimes that’s the way of the rugby gods. He was up there thinking ‘I’m not sure Exeter deserve to win this’. Sometimes it works like that.”
Having fallen behind to a converted try from Saints No.8 Shaun Adendorff, the hosts replied just before the break when skipper Jack Yeandle found his way over for a score, which was converted by young fly-half Harvey Skinner.
Up against the elements in the second half, the Chiefs had plenty of possession and territory to add to their tally - and their cause was assisted when the Saints had fly-half George Furbank sin-binned for a professional foul.
The Chiefs, though, could not make their numerical advantage pay and it was Piers Francis who potted them back in front with two successful penalties.
With time running out for the hosts, the Chiefs rallied late on and worked the opening for Scottish international Skinner to cross in the corner. That set-up Simmonds’ late conversion attempt, but he was adjudged to have moved in his build-up, triggering the Saints to fly out and hack the ball into touch.
“We’re disappointed, of course we are,” added Baxter. “However, I’m not overly concerned. It’s important this time of year, when it’s varying conditions, you have players coming and going, you have injuries, that you collect every point you can. We’ve collected 14 points out of this four-game block and if you do that for every four games you play, you’re going to have a good season.
“At the same time, there will be an element of frustration when you lose a game like this, so we will have a look at the video again because I know there are things we can improve on going into next week.”
Next on the agenda for the Chiefs is Friday’s trip to Sale Sharks, a fixture Baxter knows is one of the toughest on the calendar for any top-flight club.
“We tend to enjoy Friday night games, but any trip to Sale is always tough,” he warned. “In a way, it’s the ideal game for us. Going up there you have no option to front up because if you don’t, you’ll get bullied, everybody knows that. We’ve got a short turnaround now, which in itself will be good, and we will look to get back out there.”