'That's more like it!' - says Baxter
WATCH ROB BAXTER'S POST-MATCH PRESS CONFERENCE HERE
By Mark Stevens
“That’s more like it,” said Exeter Chiefs Director of Rugby, Rob Baxter, after he watched his side return to winning ways in the Gallagher Premiership with a comprehensive 38-3 triumph over visiting Wasps at Sandy Park.
Undone in their last league outing at home to Bristol Bears, the Chiefs ensured normal service was resumed with this five-try success. Ben Moon crossed for their opening try on just three minutes, before second half touchdowns from Luke Cowan-Dickie, Tom O’Flaherty, Alec Hepburn, plus a penalty try, wrapped up all five points for the Devonians.
Wasps - whose sold reward was a first half penalty from young fly-half Jacob Umaga - offered decent resistance for 50 minutes at least, but the raw power, pace and precision of the Chiefs was too much as the visitors flittered away in the final quarter.
“To me, today like I was watching a genuine Exeter Chiefs Premiership performance, the kind we have seen for the last two years,” said Baxter. “It’s where we just perform well over the course of 80 minutes and we just collect points.
“It can be through pick-and-go’s, maul tries, it can be scrum penalty tries, or a scorcher like we saw from Tom O’Flaherty. They can come in a variety of ways if you keep that pressure on.
“What I thought we did well today was we just kept genuine pressure on Wasps for the whole game. Yes, there were times when Wasps had their moments, but I thought we scrambled fantastically well to defend our try-line.
“Also, I though second half we really realigned our energies to what really mattered which, when you watch the game, were big sets of defence, good work in the set-piece and good continuity at the breakdown. When we did the mainline, that when we were in control. When we didn’t, that was when Wasps got some momentum and hurt us a little bit.
“Overall, though, I have to credit the players because they have ticked all the boxes in terms of where they have aligned their energy today.”
Exeter’s success lifts them to second in the current standings and was the perfect response after they were picked off in the dying embers of their latest Premiership encounter against the Bears.
With European fixtures flanking this fixture, Baxter must now get his squad to refocus their attentions back to the Champions Cup, where they have pocked two bonus point wins against La Rochelle and Glasgow Warriors to head Pool 2.
This Sunday, they will head to Premiership rivals Sale Sharks for the first of two back-to-back games against Steve Diamond’s outfit. Baxter knows from past experiences that trips to the AJ Bell Stadium are never easy and he has warned his players to back up recent victories with another top-notch display in Salford.
“Heading into this Christmas double-header, I’ll remind the lads - and I don’t mind talking about the poor things - what happened when we played Gloucester In Europe this time last year,” added Baxter. “We let ourselves down in that first game, but then fought back well in the second. This time round I’d like to see us pour everything into that first game and, like I say, not make the same mistakes of that first game.
“Last year we kind of beat ourselves in that first game and we got flustered and made a series of poor decisions. This time round, we have to make sure that is not in our minds next week. It’s going to be a tough game, Sale are playing well, they’ve got a lot of quality players, and they look a difficult bunch to beat. Having said that, things are in our hands. We too look tough to beat, we’re obviously on form and we have good players, so let’s see what we can achieve.”
A positive for Baxter will be that despite making seven changes for the Wasps game, the fluency in which his side performed was clear to see.
“I thought Flats had a fantastic game,” said Baxter. “Nowellsy too gets you on the front foot with every carry and I thought out midfield look very solid. At the same time, how fortunate are we to have a guy like Steeno step in and run the show like he did today?
“The changes in the pack also worked. I thought Jannes Kirsten came in and did fantastically well. Matt Kvesic has a good game in the back-row and Don Armand showed his first real form this season with a couple of breaks. He looked like he was getting onto game minute form as well.
“The only down side is that Tom has tweaked his hamstring a little at the end, so we have to see what happens with that, but we’ve also managed to get good rest into Slade, Stuart Hogg, Jonny Hill and nearly 80 minutes into Sam Simmonds so the group is in a good place.”