With Exeter Chiefs continuing to put fellow Aviva Premiership Rugby high-flyers to the sword following victory over Wasps at Sandy Park, head coach Rob Baxter admits his side are thriving on the biggest stage.
Jack Nowell touched down twice and Thomas Waldrom crashed over to continue his remarkable scoring form as Exeter backed up their first triumph over Northampton Saints at Franklin’s Gardens last weekend with another impressive display.
Despite leading 28-5 at the break, Baxter’s side were unable to secure the bonus point as Wasps’ pack grew in stature but two further Gareth Steenson penalties lifted the Chiefs to the top of the table.
Saints have the chance to retake top spot should they triumph over Saracens on Sunday, but Baxter insists he is initially concerned with sustaining the gap between his side and their fellow top-four contenders.
And after Nowell claimed his first league tries since a 37-24 win against Wasps in April 2013, Baxter is confident the England winger has silenced his critics.
“We have a huge game next week for us now, at home to Saracens, and I've told the players that the best part about winning is that you make every week a bigger game,” he said.
“I think that what is going to happen over the next few weeks amongst the top group is going to be very interesting and for us it is about keep fighting and maintaining as big a gap as we can.
“Jack Nowell scored by being on the end of the last pass on the wing and now, I suppose, that will make him a great try-scoring winger, the reality is that his strength is that he does work all over the pitch.
“It is good for him that he has banged a couple of tries down because people can now stop saying he doesn't score tries.
“We are probably a little frustrated that we didn’t force a bonus point, but the reason for that was that we had to weather a storm on our five-metre line so credit to our replacement front row.”
After Rob Miller’s 12th-minute try, Wasps squandered numerous opportunities until their pack started to exert their dominance at the scrum after the break, only for a refreshed Exeter front row to restore parity despite Tom Lindsay's late consolation try.
But director of rugby Dai Young admits that his side would not have had to rely on trying to fight back through the set piece had their finishing been sharper in a lacklustre first period.
“We let ourselves down in the first half and blew at least three two-on-one opportunities,” he said.
“The minimum I expect from the players is to go out and put their bodies on the line and stick to the structure.
“There are teams out there that can rise above and play really well on the day. We put our hand up if someone plays better than us on the day and take it on the chin.
“But that wasn't us today, certainly in the first 40 minutes, and we lacked that bite and energy.
“They are a good team and the league table doesn't lie. People seem to keep knocking them down but they keep proving people wrong and Rob (Baxter) keeps them pushing in the right direction so I think they are here to stay.”
Exeter Chiefs: Dollman; Nowell, Slade, Whitten, Jess; Steenson, Chudley (Thomas 77); Rimmer (Moon 54), Cowan-Dickie (Bateman 54), Francis (Low 51) , Mumm, Welch, Ewers, Armand, Waldrom (Hortsmann 63)
Replacements not used: Caldwell, Hughes, McGuigan
Sin bin: Francis 51
Wasps: Miller; Wade (Varndell 31), Daly, Bell, Tagicakibau; Goode (Lozowski 62), Simpson (Davies 69); McIntyre (Yapp 62), Shervington (Lindsay 58), Cittadini (Cooper-Woolley 54), Davies, Gaskell (Myall 61), Johnson, Jones, Hughes (Thompson 61)
Sin bin: Daly 79
Tries: Nowell 2, Waldrom
Conversions: Steenson 2
Penalties: Steenson 4
Tries: Miller, Lindsay
Referee: Ian Tempest
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