They may have slipped to back-to-back Aviva Premiership Rugby defeats with a loss to Saracens, but Exeter Chiefs head coach Rob Baxter believes the quality they showed against the defending champions has given him plenty of encouragement.
An overturning by Wasps in Coventry was followed up by a 34-13 loss at the normally-impenetrable Sandy Park, with Alex Lozowski, Jackson Wray, Ben Spencer and a double from Sean Maitland securing a bonus-point win in a repeat of last season’s Aviva Premiership Rugby final.
And while Chiefs – who also lost their home opener to Leicester Tigers in 2014 – responded through Luke Cowan-Dickie, Baxter was left with mixed emotions at the final whistle.
“I’m obviously disappointed, you always are when you lose a game of rugby,” he said.
“I said to the team not to be too disappointed because at times I saw some real quality from us. We need to make sure we don’t ignore those things; we don’t get too down because on another day those things work out for you and it’s a very different scoreline.
“I thought Saracens were very good, they were very clinical as well and I thought they capitalised on a slow start by us, which in a lot of ways created real pressure for us throughout the game.
“We were then always fighting, we started a little sloppily and soft but once we started to be a bit tougher and more physical, it was a very even contest. There are bits we need to improve on.”
Elsewhere, Dai Young was left celebrating a first win at Welford Road for his Wasps side since 2008, prevailing 34-22 at Leicester Tigers to maintain their winning start to the season.
Christian Wade, Guy Thompson, Sam Jones and Jimmy Gopperth all went over for the bonus-point win, despite the Tigers threatening a second comeback of the season through Lachlan McCaffrey and Ed Slater scores.
And for director of rugby Young, a rare Welford Road win can now be the perfect springboard for the rest of the campaign.
“I said to the players, all smiles after the game, why should we be surprised?” he said. “We’ve got the quality in the team and we’ve got to have a bit more belief. Not many teams leave there with a result.
“We had a 20-minute spell where we lost our composure, where we were trying to force things and our kicking game wasn’t as accurate, but first half we were a little bit more energetic, carried really well and our defence was closing down well.
“It was an ugly stat, but it was realistic, and up until last season we haven’t been competitive and good enough when we’d come to Welford Road. Leicester had been far too good for us.
“But we showed what we had against them at home last season, but we’ve kicked on again this year. We have to believe we can go anywhere and win.”
There was also an impressive result for Bath Rugby, as the Newcastle Falcons were on the end of a 58-5 mauling at the Rec.
Semesa Rokoduguni’s eye-catching display led the way with two tries, while Dave Attwood also crossed twice, with Kane Palma-Newport, Matt Banahan and Elliott Stooke touching down for Todd Blackadder’s side.
“I’m just so pleased for our players. It was fantastic,” said Blackadder.
“It was a great atmosphere. The support is unbelievable. You just feel the passion and commitment to the team. The support we got today was amazing. Long may it continue.
“When he [Rokoduguni] saw the opportunities he really went for it. That inspired our guys. Dave Attwood was one of our best too.
“We’ll celebrate and enjoy this, it was a fantastic performance. It’s great weather and the boys probably deserved a few quiet beers – and so they should.”
In the other Aviva Premiership Rugby weekend matches, Dan Mugford starred on his Sale Sharks home debut, kicking his side to victory over Harlequins, while Northampton Saints wrote the wrongs of their opening weekend defeat to Bath Rugby by beating newboys Bristol Rugby 32-10, returning to Ashton Gate for the first time.
And Friday night once again had its fair share of excitement, as Worcester Warriors hung on for a gutsy 24-24 draw against Gloucester Rugby in the M5 derby at Sixways.
Exeter Chiefs 13
Tries: Cowan Dickie
Penalties: Slade 2
Tries: Lozowski, Maitland 2, Wray, Spencer
Conversions: Goode 3
Referee: JP Doyle
Bristol Rugby 10
Northampton Saints 32
Tries: North, Picamoles, K Pisi, Haywood
Conversions: Myler 2, Mallinder
Penalties: Myler 2
Referee: Craig Maxwell-Keys
Leicester Tigers 22
Tries: McCaffrey, Slater
Penalties: Burns 4
Tries: Wade, Thompson, Jones, Gopperth
Penalties: Gopperth 2
Conversions: Gopperth 4
Referee: Craig Garner
Bath Rugby 58
Tries: Penalty try, Banahan, Rokoduguni 2, Fotuali’i, Atwood 2, Stooke
Conversions: Ford 6
Referee: Ian Tempest
Worcester Warriors 23
Tries: Te’o, Vuna, Humphreys
Penalties: Lamb, Heathcote
Gloucester Rugby 23
Tries: Scott, Purdy
Conversions: Laidlaw 2
Penalties: Laidlaw 3
Referee: Luke Pearce
Sale Sharks 19
Penalties: Mugford 4
Referee: Thomas Foley