O'Flaherty pleased with team's drive
By Mike Smith
Tom O’Flaherty believes Exeter Chiefs are heading in the right direction, but insists improvements can still be made with their performances ahead of their Gallagher Premiership opener against Harlequins.
Rob Baxter’s side moved back to the top of Pool C in this season’s Premiership Cup when they produced a powerful second half showing at Sixways to sink rivals Worcester Warriors 34-19.
Having been undone by a hat-trick of tries by Warriors winger Tom Howe, the Chiefs regrouped impressively to fight their way back and claim maximum reward from their trip to the Midlands.
Winger Olly Woodburn bagged Exeter’s opening try of the night, before forwards Jacques Vermeulen, Sean Lonsdale and Matt Kvesic all followed suit in the second half as the Chiefs hit their hosts with 24 unanswered points.
For the majority of those on duty for the Chiefs, it was a first competitive outing since the Devonians were narrowly beat in last season’s Premiership Final against Saracens at Twickenham.
O’Flaherty was among 14 changes Baxter had made to his starting XV from the previous week at Leicester Tigers - and the Chiefs speedster certainly impressed against a powerful Warriors outfit.
"Worcester were good and were very aggressive in defence,” said O’Flaherty. “They were really stubborn throughout and although we were camped on their line at times, they didn’t give us easy points.”
Indeed, it was the Warriors who made the most of their opportunities - particularly in the first half - as they not only took their chances, but more often than not seized on some uncharacteristic errors from the Chiefs.
"The rustiness was evidence in the first half and at times in the second half,” explained O’Flaherty. “We should have converted the long period of pressure we had in the first-half into points. There was a long list of errors across the board, but hopefully that’s blown the cobwebs off, and we will move on and be a bit more clinical next time.”
Evidence of just how tough Friday’s clash was came in the form of a number of Chiefs players having to be replaced mid-game. Ollie Devoto, Phil Dollman and Ian Whitten were all replaced during the second half, forcing the Chiefs to re-jig their back division, including putting young scrum-half Sam Maunder into the full-back role.
All three players are still being assesses ahead of Exeter’s next fixture which comes in the shape of Saturday’s ‘Derby Day’ tussle with local rivals Bristol Bears, who themselves still harbour hopes of advancing into the last four of the Cup, providing they win at Sandy Park and results elsewhere also go their way.
“Bristol will be tough, they always are, but with the result we had at Worcester, plus the fact we’re at home, we’ll go into the game with a bit of confidence. The Worcester game was a step in the right direction, but we’ve just got to back it up with a better performance this week. We did well at the end to grind out the victory, especially with a makeshift backline, but we've still got to clean up some of those mistakes."
Certainly, Baxter will be looking for another step up in standards from his players, who will use this weekend’s clash as the last opportunity to stake their claim for a place against Quins’ a week on Saturday.