Having gone into the game at Kingston Park buoyed by notable wins over Gloucester (away) and Harlequins (home), Devon’s finest hit a speed bump in the North East as the Falcons claimed their first league win in 20 games with a 29-24 success.
It was a disappointing outcome for the Chiefs, who with 20 minutes remaining in the contest were in front 24-17. However, late tries from Tom Catterick and Noah Cato proved decisive and it was the visitors who were left licking their wounds at the death.
With London Irish next on the agenda for Baxter’s men at Sandy Park tomorrow (3pm), the Chiefs leader has this week hammered home the point to his troops that they can ill afford to switch off in the heat of Premiership battle.
“It goes without saying that, being at home and after a loss, we are obviously going to expect a kind of psychological backlash from it,” said Baxter. “Having said that, you can’t just expect it and you can’t take it for granted.
“Players doing their specific jobs flat-out is what makes a team strong. That is where we wavered last week and it is where we have to be strong this time round.
“We went there prepared for a very tough game and we got what we expected. Of course we’re disappointed with the result, simply because we felt we were on good form and producing some good rugby. However, we dropped off a little bit the level of quality that we had been producing previously and because of that we probably got what we deserved.”
As always Baxter and his coaching team have reviewed the Falcons performance with a fine tooth comb and they’ve underlined to the Exeter players this past seven days just what needs to be done to ensure they are able to get over the winning line.
Baxter continued: ““I have individually coded every first team game for 12 years, so I know every carry, every tackle and every pass that these players have made in their careers at Exeter and I know when we are a little bit off.
“Why that happens is all about the mentality and, as simple as that sounds, that really is the hardest part of sport. The players need to be prepared physically and tactically, but on top of that, the tough part is getting individual people focused on it.
“You don’t have to drift off very far and all of a sudden you can give away a penalty or a try, so we will talk about how we have to work extremely hard and every player is going to have to play their part.”
Although it was a frustrating outcome for Baxter to take on board, he insisted there were positives to take from the game and he wants his players to use that as a springboard against the Exiles this weekend.
“We were on their try line in the last minute and had we driven that over we could easily have been coming home with five points instead of one, but that was the game was like, we allowed it to become a see-saw battle in the final quarter with the score going backwards and forward.
“Obviously we would have like it to have been us who finished on the right side of it, but I am not going to sit here and moan too much about it. Often you are the architects of your own downfall and I think we’ll agree with that on this occasion. To be fair, Newcastle also played well and took full advantage of that; they scored some good tries and they held on at the end because it meant an awful lot to them.”
Exeter’s defeat - only their second this season - did not hinder their league position as they remain fourth in the standings going into Round Six, but Baxter wants his team to finish this opening block on a high note and that means seeing off the visiting Londoners.
“Its certainly brought us back down to earth and made us realise that you have to work very hard in every Premiership game if you want to get anything out of it,” added Baxter. “We have had a good solid training week and we know we are coming up against a London Irish team that is enjoying their rugby, playing well and who have had some good results.
“Not all of them have been wins, but they’ve had some good performances against some of the top teams in the league. No doubt they will be coming here similar to us thinking this could be the game that makes that first block of games feel quite good. If we win we’ll feel good, but if London Irish win they’ll finish good - and along with some other fixtures this weekend, there is quite a lot hanging on it.”
Team news for the Chiefs sees Mitch Lees return in the second row, while Don Armand - who replaced the Aussie a week ago - reverts to the back-row as Ben White is suffering with a knock. The other changes comes in the back division where England starlets Sam Hill and Jack Nowell both return with Ian Whitten and Tom James dropping to the bench.
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