Rob Baxter believes tying down the ‘finer details’ in his side’s game plan can lead to Exeter Chiefs returning to winning ways in the Aviva Premiership against visiting Northampton Saints tomorrow (2pm).
Three successive top-flight defeats to Newcastle Falcons, Worcester Warriors and Wasps have seen the reigning champions surrender top spot in the standings to Saracens, but Baxter insists there is no need for panic within the ranks at Sandy Park, particularly as his side are still healthy placed in second to attack the final rounds of the season.”
“I can dress it up, run around the situation, and try and say all kinds of clever things about the last home performance here against Worcester, but I know we were not at the standard we should have been that day,” explained the Chiefs Director of Rugby, who watched his side lose for the first time in the league on home soil since September 2016 when they lost 6-5.
“I thought we dealt with a lot of that at Wasps last weekend. Going away to a top four rival and getting a losing bonus point is not the end of the world. And it won’t be the end of the world if you are performing in other games – and that means performing against Northampton this weekend.”
Indeed, Baxter hopes home comforts can provide the perfect boost to his side against a Saints outfit that they have already defeated in both the Premiership and Anglo-Welsh Cup this season.
“I don’t want us to be playing well now and then have our performances dip away later in the season,” added Baxter. “Yes, I’d like us to be playing better than we are and I’d like us to be winning games, but the important thing now is that we start to accelerate from a foundation that we’ve set.
“I actually think the last couple of weeks of training, the way the players are talking and interacting amongst themselves, plus large parts of what we did against Wasps last week, I do think we are back on an upward curve from that Worcester performance, and that’s the important thing.
“Now, the most important thing to do is maintain that upward curve between now and the end of the season, just because it’s actually rare that the team who finishes top of the table at the end of the season actually goes on to win the Premiership. That’s only happened about a third of the time, so galloping along through the season has been identified as the way to win the
“For us, it’s getting yourselves, the intensity, the focus and energy levels bang on in that last run-in of six or seven games. We are approaching that stage now, so we’ve got to start to deal with it now.”
Certainly, the signs were there at the Ricoh Arena last time out that the Chiefs were beginning to find their form once more – and Baxter is hopeful they can use that display and the hurt of recent displays as a springboard against the Saints, who themselves warmed up for tomorrow’s clash with a home win over London Irish.
“I’m hoping we can use those factors as a stimulus to improve training and individual preparation,” continued Baxter. “I want us to refocus on the basics which build good Premiership performances, that is all I want from the guys.
“We’ve not tried to be too clever and find problems that are not there. At the same time, though, we have addressed issues that are there – the biggest being we have just failed to keep the ball at very important times.
“Last week at Wasps was a prime example of that in a game where we lost by just one score. If you look at the game, we got over the line and we’re held up, we lost the ball five metres out on another occasion, and we got turned over from a five-metre scrum. It’s not like we didn’t have our opportunities to score in that game. Had we converted at least one of them, we could be sat here talking about getting a big win at one of our rivals and having reversed our form after the Worcester performance.
“At this level the margins are fine, but those are the ones that you have to work at very, very hard if you want to be successful.”
Team news for the Chiefs sees Baxter make four changes to his starting line-up from a week ago. Into the pack come Greg Holmes, Sam Skinner and Thomas Waldrom for Tomas Francis, Mitch Lees and Dave Ewers, while behind Ian Whitten is also given the nod from the outset, replacing Argentinian winger Santiago Cordero.
On the bench, Jack Innard is included again having made his Premiership debut against Wasps, while Marcus Street, Matt Kvesic and Phil Dollman are also added to the mix.
15 Lachie Turner
14 Ian Whitten
13 Ollie Devoto
12 Sam Hill
11 Olly Woodburn
10 Gareth Steenson (capt)
9 Will Chudley
1 Alec Hepburn
2 Luke Cowan-Dickie
3 Greg Holmes
4 Sam Skinner
5 Jonny Hill
6 Don Armand
7 Julian Salvi
8 Thomas Waldrom
16 Jack Innard
17 Ben Moon
18 Marcus Street
19 Mitch Lees
20 Matt Kvesic
21 Stu Townsend
22 Joe Simmonds
23 Phil Dollman
Member since: 5th January 2016
Hi, I am Mark Stevens, Media and Communications Manager for the Exeter Chiefs