'Still room for improvement' - Hepher

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Exeter Chiefs head coach Ali Hepher insists there is still room for improvement despite seeing his side move eight points clear at the top of the Premiership. Picture: www.jmpuk.com

By Mark Stevens

Ali Hepher insists there is still room for improvement within his Exeter Chiefs side, this despite them extending their lead at the top of the Gallagher Premiership to eight points.

The Chiefs collected another maximum haul in their Round 16 encounter at Sixways against Worcester, but they had to withstand a late Warriors fightback before eventually triumphing 33-30.

Full-back Santiago Cordero led the way for the visitors, scoring two and proving the killer pass for Tom O’Flaherty’s bonus point try, while there were also touchdowns for Olly Woodburn and Harry Williams with Gareth Steenson kicking the remainder of their points.

In a dominant first half, against a strong breeze in the Midlands, the Chiefs led 19-6 with Worcester countering through two penalties from Scottish international Duncan Weir.

After the break, however, the Warriors found their feet and they were able to sting their rivals with four tries of their own through Bryce Seem, Ted Hill, Tom Howe and Chris Pennell, who was making a record 150th top-flight appearance for the club.

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Exeter Chiefs winger Tom O'Flaherty makes a burst against Worcester and has fellow winger Olly Woodburn in support alongside him. Picture: www.jmpuk.com

Thankfully, the Chiefs had enough guile to hold off the late Worcester surge, ensuring they finished this latest four-game block of fixtures - three of which have been on the road - with 15 points out of a possible 20.

Saturday’s success means that now have 61 points at the top of the table, eight clear of defending champions Saracens, who came unstuck 24 hours earlier away to Bath, who provide the next opposition to the Chiefs at Sandy Park on Sunday week.

Post-game, Hepher admitted he was ‘pleased’ with large parts of the Exeter display, but says there are still areas of their game they will need to work in the final run-in.

“There were different patches to the performance,” he said. “I thought the way we worked hard in the first half, then again in the early part of the second half to get ourselves in a good position was very good. Some of our attacking play and the tries we scored, it was all very good and underlined how hard we were willing to work.

“Equally, though, we’re a little bit frustrated with the 20 minutes and how close the game got in the end. We were probably guilty of taking our eye off the ball fractionally and against good sides, which Worcester are, they are well capable of scoring those tries.

“We want to pride ourselves on being more ruthless and a bit more relentless when we’re in good positions, because that is ultimately the key. Human nature will always dictate that when you get a bit comfortable you may let off a bit, but we have to learn that when we get in those situations, we need to stay on task and stick on those next actions and do it well, rather than just thinking we don’t have to fight as hard in this area and the next.

“In that respect, it means we do have a bit to work on - and it’s a good reminder to be better next time, but overall we’re very pleased with the result and a lot of what we did out there today.”

With four of Exeter’s last six games in the regular season set to be played on home turf, Hepher hopes his side will be able to kick on further and drive themselves into the play-offs with real momentum.

“If you look at the fixtures that we have left, four of them at home and two of them are away,” continued Hepher. “Right now, we’ll take where we are in the league, but it’s not a massive indicator in that sense. We’re looking more at performance, rather than where we end up in the league. Performance-wise, we are doing OK week-to-week, but we know we can still improve.

“It will be good to get the whole squad back for the next game and get them nice and tight, all on board, and really ready to push hard towards the end of the season.”

The Chiefs clash with Bath at Sandy Park on Sunday, April 24 is selling fast and a capacity crowd is expected, so those without tickets for the game are advised to buy now. 

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