Exeter lock Geoff Parling described Friday night’s 34-15 win over former club Leicester Tigers as one of the biggest of his career as the Chiefs maintained their push for the Aviva Premiership play-offs.
Parling delivered a man of the match display on his own stomping ground, helping the Devon club to not only all five points on the night, but also helping them secure a crucial league double over the Tigers.
With just five rounds of the scheduled season remaining, the 33-year-old believes there is no reason he and his team-mates can’t maintain their impressive form and guide themselves to a first-ever Premiership crown.
“To win at Leicester is a huge statement for us,” said the England and British Lions international. “We have been on a bit of a roll lately and not only have we been winning games, but we’ve been picking up bonus points. To come away to the Tigers – and I know what playing at Welford Road means to Leicester players – I thought we turned up and did a fantastic job.”
Despite trailing to an early Michele Rizzo try, the Chiefs regrouped impressively to hit their hosts with tries from Kai Horstmann and Stuart Townsend, plus a penalty try to put them firmly in control at the break. Although the expected Leicester fightback materialised in the second period, including a score for Maxine Mermoz, it was the visitors who finished the stronger, collecting a bonus point when Mitch Lees rumbled over late on.
It was a display that not only delighted head coach Rob Baxter, but also Parling, who believes the Chiefs can use the experience of last season – where they finished runners-up to Saracens – to go one stage further this time around.
“We went behind early, but it didn’t faze us. We came out with a real intensity and I actually think second half we will actually be a little disappointed that we let them back in a little bit,” added Parling. “I think tonight we showed we are a good team, so let’s make these games count for something. Let’s go and get in that top two.”
A top two finish would ensure the Chiefs have home advantage in the play-off semi-finals, a key factor at any time in the season, but especially with a Twickenham final place potentially on offer.
Parling knows last season first-ever appearance in the Premiership final was something to savour for many associated with the Devon club, but inwardly he insists the playing group know there is still more to come.
“Last year was a good season and we got to the final, but it wasn’t a really successful season. It was a statement for the club, but an even bigger statement is lets go on and use this to win this season.
“At the start of the year I didn’t think we were, but now I think we are frustrated we didn’t win the Premiership last year. That frustration showed in games like today, so now let’s use that and go on and win the Premiership.”
Parling’s positive talking will be welcomed all around Sandy Park by the Chiefs faithful, but he is seeing first-hand the strength of the current Exeter squad.
“The togetherness within the squad is massive, we do everything together,” he continued. “As I said, it’s a huge statement for us but we will keep it in a measured view and I’m sure when we turn up on Tuesday we’ll talk about how we could have done things better at times.
“I just think there is a lot of talent in this squad, I really mean that, there are a lot of lads who work really hard for one another. This chance we have got now heading into the end of the season, you don’t get that back, so we have got to use it. Last season we didn’t quite use it, so we need to this time around.
“I maybe feel a bit emotional talking like this, but it means a lot and I am just hoping we bang on. Tonight, I have to say, was one of the biggest wins of my career. Now we have proved we can do it at Welford Road, now we have to do it again against Sale in a few weeks’ time. They will be a different type of opposition, but we will need to go again. You can’t afford to let standards slip.
“I was trying to get the message across last year in that we shouldn’t be happy with losing, I don’t think we were, but look at Sarries before they started to win everything.They lost a few finals and you do learn from them. If that’s your first experience of a final, you do learn from those experiences and let’s make sure we have learnt from them.”
With the Premiership now set for a two-week break, the Chiefs will switch their focus to the Anglo-Welsh Cup where they face Harlequins at Sandy Park this Sunday (3pm).
Parling admits that too remains a key objective for the Devonians, adding: “There is going to be some big, big games to come. We want to win the Anglo-Welsh Cup first, that’s another big chance for the club, but when we get back into the Premiership let’s make those moments count.
“It’s a good place to be, but we have to make it count. We’re not there yet, we’re second in the table, but let’s try and finish first and go from there.”