It’s perhaps a sign of expectation levels at Sandy Park that even five-point victories are now being heavily scrutinised by Exeter Chiefs head coach Rob Baxter and his players.
Baxter admitted post-match following his side’s 30-25 Aviva Premiership win over Sale Sharks that there were elements of Exeter’s game that needed to be addressed – and that a repeat performance would not be looked upon favourably moving forward.
“I can’t be happy at us playing at that level and we need to shake ourselves up for the remainder the season,” said Baxter post-match at Sandy Park. “We were disrupted in the first half and threw careless passes, which made it difficult for ourselves – and had we not scored just before interval the mountain may have been too high to climb.
“Perhaps after winning at Leicester we were riding on the crest of the wave, but this was a real wake-up call for us as Sale have worried us down there in the past and we weren’t ready for them.”
Although conditions hampered the Chiefs heavily during the first half, they still allowed the Sharks to dictate for long periods and were forced to claw back a 14-point deficit entering into the second period.
Kai Horstmann and Luke Cowan-Dickie’s first half scores helped the home fightback before Olly Woodburn and skipper Don Armand both crossed after the break to ensure all five points for the second-placed Chiefs.
Like Baxter, though, winger Woodburn admitted it wasn’t a vintage display from the Chiefs and says areas will be addressed by the team ahead of their next fixture against bottom club Bristol on Saturday, April 8.
“We didn’t make it easy for ourselves, but the good thing is we’ve got time to look at things before we play Bristol,” said Woodburn. “We know we are going to have to look at a couple of things we got wrong, like the way we started the game and the way we trained during the week. That said, we’re happy to come away with the five points and we’ll enjoy the victory for what it is.”
The 25-year-old praised Sale for their display – particularly first half – but knows he and his team-mates cannot afford to start slowly in future fixtures.
“It took us probably 40 or 50 minutes to really get into the game,” he added. “We just need to start games better. Sale played that first half almost perfectly, they pinned us back in our half with kicks and didn’t really let us out that much.”
Thankfully, the Chiefs – now with the elements in their favour – were much improved during the second half and were able to finally implement their game plan on their rivals.
Next up for the Chiefs is the visit of lowly Bristol, who with just four games of the scheduled season remaining know they are fighting tooth and nail for their Premiership existence
“Bristol are bottom, so we don’t want to trip over them,” warned Woodburn, who is now into his second season with the Chiefs. “We know they’ll come here with nothing to lose and everything to gain, so it makes a difficult game for us.
“It’ll add a bit more pressure on us, so we have to be focused and ready to meet their threat. We know we’re a good side with great players and great systems. We just don’t want to play like today each week.”