Exeter Chiefs head coach Rob Baxter insists he will not allow his players to be caught up in the drama of what promises to be a fight to the end for a place in Aviva Premiership Rugby’s top four.
A solitary Will Chudley try, on top of 11 points from Henry Slade’s boot, saw the Chiefs leapfrog Bath Rugby and go third in the table after getting the better of their West Country rivals by 16-6.
A record crowd of 12,621 at Sandy Park were there to witness what was the Chiefs’ first ever Aviva Premiership Rugby victory over Bath, although they had to put up an almighty defensive display to earn it.
In fact, as Baxter admitted, the hosts were playing within themselves for the majority of the first half as if they were afraid to lose such an important game.
And if his side are to extend their season with a semi-final spot, Baxter knows they can’t allow thoughts of that to cloud their judgement in the remaining games.
“That was important for the supporters, they have spent a lot of time watching us play Bath and had to go away disappointed and it was nice for them to go away celebrating a win,” he said.
“Now we have got through an edgy and nervy encounter against them, next time we go up against them then it will be a better game.
“In the first half we looked like a team afraid of losing and we were doing everything we could not to lose and that is a very dangerous way of playing that didn’t suit us.
“We grew through the game and that is the important thing. We had a bit of fight and confidence in what we wanted to do.
“I don’t want to get caught up in it all. I said to the players that we have to make sure for the rest of the season we don’t get caught up and play in a way that we are scared of having something taken away.
“The only thing I am going to think about come Monday is London Welsh. I want them to turn up hungry to get into another big game and we need to cherish every single one.”
After Tom Homer and Slade had exchanged kicks it looked as though Bath were going to get the upper hand with a period of sustained pressure on the Exeter five-metre line.
But when they failed to score after a number of catch and drive attempts, it was the Chiefs who grew stronger, eventually punishing a poor Ollie Devoto kick with a try under the posts through Chudley.
And despite the defeat, Bath head coach Mike Ford is adamant his side can still achieve their goal of a top-four finish, although Friday night’s game with Sale Sharks is now vital.
“We’re confident. We’re very, very confident that we’ll achieve our goals this year,” he said.
“It was small margins but I was proud of that effort. We defended really well, heroically at times. I thought ball in hand we weren’t too bad either and made a few tackle busts.
“It’s probably the best we’ve played for a couple of weeks. I thought we dominated the collisions, our defence was good, and in the set piece I thought we were on top as well.
“We need to recover physically, for Friday night. That’s our focus now. We need to go out and win on Friday now.
“There was no trophy lifted here. There are six games to play and we’ll be there or thereabouts.”
Exeter Chiefs: Dollman (McGuigan 71), James, Whitten, Hill, Jess, Slade, Chudley, Rimmer, Yeandle (Cowan-Dickie 58), Francis (Brown 50), Mumm, Welch (Lees 67), Ewers, Armand, Waldrom
Replacements not used: Sturgess, White, Lewis, Steenson
Bath Rugby: Homer, Rokoduguni, Burgess, Eastmond, Woodburn, Devoto, Young (Cook 67), Auterac (Obano 70), Batty (Webber 56), Palma-Newport (Lahiff 56), Hooper, Day, Fearns (Fa’osiliva 68), Louw, Houston (Garvey 36)
Replacements not used: Jennings, Arscott
Penalties: Slade (3)
Penalties: Homer (2)
Referee: Dean Richards
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