Assistant coach Ali Hepher believes Exeter Chiefs are “building nicely” after they edged ever closer to securing a home semi-final in this season’s Aviva Premiership play-offs.
With just one round of the scheduled season remaining, the Chiefs drew level on points with leaders Wasps as they notched up their 14th league win of the season thanks to this six-try 36-12 victory over Northampton Saints at Sandy Park.
Supporters’ Player of the Year Olly Woodburn led the way with brace of tries, while there were further touchdowns for Don Armand, Ian Whitten, Jack Nowell and Sam Hill as the Chiefs created history by becoming the first side ever to record seven successive try bonus point victories.
Even then the margin of victory could easily have been more with Hepher admitting post-match that his side had “left some tries out there.”
“Ideally we’d like to have scored more in that first half and early in the second,” he said. “We were still a bit twitchy in the coaching box for a while, but I’m really pleased with the guys because they kept coming and coming. We had pushed that message a lot after the week off and they fired well out there today.”
Up against a strong first half wind, the Devonians overcame an early converted score for Northampton’s JJ Hanrahan to hit back strongly and lead 12-7 at the turn.
“Conditions were tough out there,” admitted Hepher. “We had to play into the wind in the first half, so it was tough to put a kicking game into place. If we had got into a kicking battle with them, we won have lost it in that first half. We knew we had to play and keep the ball as much as possible.
“As people will have seen, Northampton have been knocking on the door recently and over there last three or four performances against the top sides, they probably should have won at least two of them. We knew it would be a tough ask out there today, but I’m pleased with how the boys stuck at it throughout.
“Yes, we need to be a little more clinical, but they are little touch-ups for us to work on. What I liked was that we carried hard and mentally we’re in a good place. When we are like that, we know we are a tough side to beat.”
Next up for the Chiefs is Saturday’s impending trip to Gloucester, where another victory at Kingsholm will ensure the club of home advantage in the semi-finals on May 20.
Just who they face, however, remains up in the air and will not be fully decided until the final whistle has blasted in every Round 22 fixture.
That said, Hepher - himself a former Northampton Saints player - insists the Chiefs are in fine fettle heading towards their last four showdown, especially having gleaned the experience of playing in the latter stages of the competition 12 months ago.
“Last season was different because we started quickly and we got through the latter stages,” added Hepher. “This year, there is more of a calmness to the group. We are building nicely and we are comfortable with where we are. All we are saying to the guys is to keep it simple and put in massive actions after massive actions.
“We know if we get 23 guys doing that every weekend, then we will come though well. Today, we put in another good shift; we worked hard and, as I said, mentally we are in a good place.”
Member since: 5th January 2016
Hi, I am Mark Stevens, Media and Communications Manager for the Exeter Chiefs