Greg Bateman believes lessons learnt last season by the Exeter Chiefs are paying dividends this term with the Devon club riding high in the Aviva Premiership.
Rob Baxter’s side finished last season’s Premiership campaign in eighth spot, matching the same position that they finished in their inaugural season amongst English rugby’s elite.
It was a disappointing outcome for the Chiefs, especially having landed top six finishes in their two previous seasons.
There were, however, mitigating factors according to head coach Baxter, who not only saw his side slip to a number of one score defeats, but also saw them land their first-ever piece of major silverware when they lifted the LV= Cup against eventual champions Northampton Saints in March.
Several months down the line, though, and things are looking much brighter for the Chiefs. Currently sat second in the Premiership behind the Saints and top of both their LV= and European Challenge Cup groups, it’s been a more than useful introduction to the 2014/15 season for those in the Westcountry.
Bateman, who signed at the start of last season from London Welsh, is encouraged by what he sees of the current Exeter mix and feels the “pain” of certain results last season has helped to harden the Chiefs this time round.
“Sometimes you have to go through some pain and experience those tricky decisions to become better,” said Bateman. “Last year we had a number of close games where we didn’t quite get a win – or the odd TMO decision that didn’t go our way – but it’s a lot different this season.
“There is a real buzz about this group right now and the lads want to make it about them and not worry about things that they can’t control such as decisions by the ref or things the opposition do. Instead we want to concentrate on our game and look to ram that home each week.”
With fellow No.2 Jack Yeandle sidelined with a back complaint and Elvis Taione having been away with Tonga on international duty in recent weeks, Bateman has made the most of his chance to show Baxter what he can bring to the team.
His second half introduction – along with props Ben Moon and Moray Low – proved a defining moment during last weekend’s home win against Wasps where, for a ten-minute period, the Chiefs were under the cosh with a succession of scrums just five metres from their line.
With home prop Tomas Francis in the sin-bin for persistent infringing, Baxter looked to his fresh forwards to make an impact at a crucial stage. The trio did not disappoint, quelling the Wasps thrust and in turning producing their own spell of pressure that helped to clear the danger.
“We knew they were going to be strong up front and bring a lot of physicality to things,” added Bateman. “But the lads did well, they dug in when they had to and in the end we got a good victory at home and four points that have got us pushing hard at the top.”
This Saturday, though, it doesn’t get any easier as the Chiefs welcome Saracens to Sandy Park for their latest Premiership engagement.
Bateman knows the Londoners will be looking for a response of their own following last Sunday’s home defeat to Northampton, but he believes more of the same from the Chiefs can put them in good stead for the game.
“All we can do is control what is in front of us,” continued the front-row star. “Mummsy [Dean Mumm] is always on top of us about dealing with each week as it comes. At the moment the lads are playing very well and they are thriving on the pitch.
“The system we have in place we all understand and if every week we can concentrate on what we do, then we’ll back ourselves against anyone that we come up against.”