Disappointed Exeter Chiefs head coach Rob Baxter blamed his side for making a series of “dumb” errors as they slipped to a 27-22 defeat against Leeds Carnegie in the Aviva Premiership on Sunday.
Looking for a response following their 39-17 loss at London Irish the week previous, the Chiefs were again left to reflect on a miserable away-day performance in Yorkshire.
Tries from Hendre Fourie and Alfie To’oala, coupled with 17 points from the boot of fly-half Adrian Jarvis, not only ensured Leeds of a priceless victory in their bid to stave off relegation, but at the same time it further extended Exeter’s Headingley hoodoo, where they have now failed to win in eight previous trips.
For Baxter, whose side’s replied through a try from centre Bryan Rennie and 17 points from leading point-scorer Gareth Steenson, a full post mortem of these latest setback will begin in earnest when the players report back for duty on Tuesday.
“I’m disappointed but I’ve said to the boys we’ve got to take things on the chin,” said the Exeter chief. “I’m not going to sit in the changing room and say ‘don’t worry boys, you deserved to win the game’. As far as I’m concerned we did enough dumb things to lose the game and that’s why we lost.
“I’m not going to take anything away from Leeds – they’ve won a game of Premiership rugby and they deserved to.
“We’ve got to take that on the chin and we’ve got to address why we’ve lost and why we haven’t played as well as we have in the past.”
Baxter added: “I think we’ve hit a wall with our last two performances. I don’t think it’s anything to panic about, but we’ve got to find our way through it now and start addressing some silly things we’ve done for a couple of weeks and get them out of the system. By that I mean silly penalties and poor decisions that characteristically we don’t make when we’re playing well and that put us under pressure.
“It’s going to be a bit of a video nasty if we look at how much ball we actually coughed up in relatively unpressurised situations that probably led to six or seven Leeds scores. As I said, it’s not a panic situation because we’re safe from that, but we do need to talk about addressing errors. You can’t just brush them away, you’ve got to get on top of them.
“To create as many half-chances as we did and not convert more of them is disappointing, but to give up so many easy points is probably the most disappointing thing.”
Although Baxter, whose side mathematically need just a point to be sure of their place amongst English rugby’s elite next season, has said he will not tear strips out of his troops who have performed so admirably this term, he is to sit down both individually and collectively with his players and look to address certain issues ahead of this weekend’s trip to Bath at the Recreation Ground (2.30pm).
“It’s not so much about getting into the players after the season we’ve had and how hard they’ve worked,” he said.
“You don’t get into the boys because they make mistakes, there wasn’t a guy on the pitch who wasn’t trying to win a game of rugby, but there’s a level of intelligence that has to stay tuned in for 80 minutes and I would say that’s where we lost our way a little bit.
“It’s the little things that we have to address, they put us under a lot of pressure.”
Whereas Baxter was left disappointed by his side’s showing, opposite number Neil Back was delighted with his team, who will continue their battle to beat the drop against fellow strugglers Newcastle Falcons this Saturday.
“We’ll do what we need to do or we will die trying,” said the England World Cup winner. “I believe we’ve got to win at least two of the next four games. Bearing in mind we’ve won three of the last 18, that’s a big challenge. But without belief there is nothing. I 100 per cent believe that we can go to Newcastle and win.
“Nobody can question the mentality or desire of this squad. It wasn’t pretty but we battled hard and did what we had to do to win the game today. It was a simple game-plan that was well executed. We’re scoring tries and we’re denying the opposition at the other end. In the last four games we’ve won twice and scored eight tries and conceded very few, so we’re in a good place at the moment.”