Exeter’s director of rugby Rob Baxter felt that points were more important than performance after his side defeated Leicester Tigers 26-13 at Sandy Park yesterday, writes Gareth Davies.
In their first Premiership match for five months, Exeter continued their march towards securing top spot in the play-offs with victory over a Tigers side under the tutelage of new head coach Steve Borthwick.
During the first half, though, Exeter struggled to stamp their authority on proceedings with six points from the boot of George Ford putting Leicester in control. After the first drinks break, Dave Ewers crashed over to get the scoreboard moving for the hosts and as the 40-minute mark approached, it looked like they would head into the turnaround 6-5 behind.
However, a sensational move from the home backline, finished off in style by Stuart Hogg sent Exeter in at half-time 12-6 ahead and it was a lead they never looked like surrendering. Further tries from Luke Cowan-Dickie and a penalty-try secured the bonus point and despite Exeter conceding a similar score of their own, they ran out comfortable winners with Baxter understandably pleased at full-time.
“I think the big positive is that we have collected some points and everyone will tell you that as this part of the season, you just want the points because it improves or maintains your league position,” Baxter told The Indy at full-time.
“In the season we’re in, points give you the opportunity to plan a little further with less pressure, but I think the biggest thing we got from this is 80 minutes of rugby under our belts.”
With games coming thick and fast between now and the season end, which will surely see Exeter feature in the play-offs and possible progression in Europe too, Baxter was cautious against changing his winning side for their next match on Friday at Sale.
“We will see how these guys go and we will see how they shape up on Monday,” he added. “You don’t need to go and limit player minutes after one game and it wouldn’t be this way in any other season. There has been a lot of science that gets talked about and recently and there has been a lot of talk about not overplaying players in this part of the season. There is a golden period where a player is less likely to get injured. That’s not having a rest after one or two games, but five or six games in.
“That golden window then opens up when players are least likely to get injured or hurt so it’s not just a case of limiting players’ minutes straight away and we have to get that right.
“We don’t want players on the field carrying injuries and niggles and make them worse, but at the same time you want to get start trying to get guys up to that proper match fitness and proper game hardness which will protect them.”
Baxter’s side eased the Tigers aside with a virtual full-strength squad with only Stu Townsend ruled out for the short term with an elbow injury.
Ollie Devoto was withdrawn in the second-half with an ankle knock and Baxter also gave an update on the fitness of Jacques Vermeulen, Alex Cuthbert and Jack Nowell, who didn’t feature yesterday.
“Jacques is fine,” said the Sandy Park supremo. “He had a little bit of a shoulder knock in the last couple of weeks but he came through training fully this week and he is fully available now.
“Alex Cuthbert is good to go now and Jack Nowell had a slight hamstring tweak. He would have been initially have been considered for selection, but we decided to pull him relatively early in the week because we want the value of him playing through (the whole season).
“Flat’s (Tom O’Flaherty) and Olly Woodburn looked great in pre-season and they worked exceptionally hard and looked very good against Leicester. You don’t need to take risks with players who are on the edge.”