Despite trailing 14-10 at the break to last season’s beaten finalists, the Chiefs produced a stunning second half showing that yielded not only 21 unanswered points, but also saw them claim the all-important four-try bonus point.
Early on, however, it was the Top 14 leaders who used the elements to put themselves in charge as they claimed converted tries through Hosea Gear and Aurelin Rougerie to silence the Sandy Park faithful.
Back roared the Chiefs and after fly-half Gareth Steenson had landed a penalty, the Irishman was then able to add the extras to Thomas Waldrom’s try just before the break.
No.8 Waldrom - who had scored a try hat-trick at Wasps the week previous - then added a second touchdown, before fellow forwards Don Armand and Mitch Lees followed him over the whitewash.
The result sparked huge scenes of celebration amongst the Exeter fan-base at the final whistle, but Baxter knows that despite his side’s triumph an equally daunting assignment now awaits next Sunday when the Chiefs head across the Channel to face Clermont-Auvergne at Stade Marcel Michelin.
Asked post-match if this was the greatest victory in the club’s history, Baxter replied: “We seem to get asked that on and off on a regular basis, but let’s wait and see. If we get out of the pool at the end, then maybe we will look back at this night as the defining moment. Right now I think we will wait to see if it was the best game in our history because ultimately if we don’t get out of the pool, it doesn’t add up to very much, and that’s the tough reality of it all.
“The nice parts of it are, three years ago we were well beaten by Clermont, but now three years on we are second in the Premiership and we have won an important game of Champions Cup rugby. What this has given us is an opportunity to make next week a big week, whilst the win keeps the pool alive for us beyond next week.
“If you look at things in previous years, around 17, 18 points things can happen for you. We have 10 now, three games remaining, so things are starting to get interesting. It’s up for us now to fight for it and keep things in our own hands, which is a nice place to be.”
Although trailing at the break, Baxter knew Waldrom’s opening try was pivotal and admitted he told his players to back themselves fully during the second period.
“14-10 at half time was a good score for us,” said the coach. “That first try was very important and what happened in the second half what with the wind, the way we played, the way we kept possession and created territory, it all added up to create enough pressure for us to score the tries that won us the game.”
One area of concern, however, was Clermont’s dominance at the breakdown and Baxter admitted it would be something he and his fellow coaches would need to address ahead of next weekend’s return match-up.
“If we had not managed to up our level at the breakdown, it would have been a very long night for us,” admitted Baxter. “It was the poor area of our game and that’s something we will have to work on very hard this week because it’s the big element Clermont can really target next week because they turned over a lot of ball.
“They were very strong in the tackle area, they slowed ball down very well and they won a lot of penalties. As I said, we will have to work hard on this area because if Clermont up their game in other areas, then it’s going to be a very tough afternoon over there for us. I thought we were better after half time, but we still weren’t perfect.”
Breakdowns aside, all other facets of Exeter’s game stood up incredibly well and with new England head coach Eddie Jones watching from the stands, England internationals Waldrom and Jack Nowell were among those to catch the eye.
“Jack looked electric all night,” continued Baxter. “It was unfortunate for Sam Hill that he had to pull out in the warm-up, but it allowed Nowellsy to show his versatility which, from an England point of view, was very good on a very important night.
“Thomas, we know, is a very good rugby player and he shows that week in, week out. He had a lot of strong carries and came up with two important tries for us. He’s a good footballer and an integral part of what we do here. Again if there was ever a good night for an English/New Zealander playing in front of an Australian/English coach, then that’s the type of performance you want to put in.”
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