Rob Baxter has urged his men to believe they can win a first Aviva Premiership Rugby crown after they dominated Wasps 24-3 at Sandy Park to move back into second-place.
Tries from Olly Woodburn, Jack Nowell and Phil Dollman to Elliot Daly’s solitary long-range penalty mean that Chiefs are now two points clear of Wasps with one round of games remaining.
Wasps were second-best throughout and Exeter looked much the fresher side, having benefitted from a week off when Dai Young’s side were knocked out of the Champions Cup semi-final to Saracens – who will now definitely finish first after beating Newcastle Falcons 23-14.
And head coach Baxter is now hopeful that Exeter can go on to challenge for the title in what has been a season full of remarkable firsts for the Chiefs.
He said: “One of the four has to win it, why can’t it be Exeter?”
“Why not? We’ve got the same opportunity as three other teams now and I think that is the way to look at it.
“I thought we were good today and I actually thought that in a lot of ways, when we actually review the game in terms of the amount of territory and possession we had, we probably came up a little bit short on the scoreboard.
“To defend like we did and only concede three points against what everyone knows is a very good attacking Wasps side is very pleasing.”
Chiefs now travel to Twickenham Stoop for Conor O’Shea’s final Aviva Premiership Rugby game in charge, with Harlequins chasing a Champions Cup spot and Baxter knows it is going to be far from a cake walk.
“Harlequins have got a lot to play for at the minute with top six and the European game coming up. It’s Conor’s last home game, so there’s going to be a lot of emotion pouring out from their side,” the 45-year-old said.
“What I hope is that we put in that kind of performance and limit Harlequins to three points.
Young refused to criticise his men after they lost just their second Aviva Premiership Rugby game in 13, admitting that they probably suffered a big-match hangover from last weekend’s European loss.
Wasps did not make it into Exeter’s 22 until the 75th minute and Young said his men would have to regain their previously exceptional attacking game if they wanted to challenge for the ultimate prize.
“We know that both physically and mentally the last couple of weeks have been draining, without a shadow of a doubt, but we aren’t going to use that as an excuse," Young said.
“We want to be up there at the business end of the season and that means playing big games back-to-back. We have to get used to that very quickly.
“I was pleased with the defence but I don’t want to be defending for that length of time and you can't if you want to win the game.
“We have to find a few answers in the next couple of days to get our attack going again.”
Exeter Chiefs: Dollman (Hill, 62); Nowell, Slade, Whitten, Woodburn (Short 59); Steenson, Chudley (Lewis 65); Moon (Hepburn 59), Cowan-Dickie (Yeandle 59), Williams (Rimmer, 72) Lees (Welch, 67), Parling, Ewers (Waldrom, 62), Salvi, Armand
Wasps: C Piutau; Wade, Daly, S Piutau (Miller, 74), Halai; Gopperth (Jackson, 62), Simpson; Mullan (Bristow, 72), Festuccia (Johnson, 54), Cittadini (Swainston, 72), Launchbury (Rolands, 72), Davies, Haskell (Young, 54), Smith, Hughes
Unused Replacements: Swainston
Tries: Woodburn, Dollman, Nowell
Conversions: Steenson 3
Referee: Matthew Carley
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