Exeter Chiefs go in search of their first Amlin Challenge Cup win when they travel to Bourgoin for their Friday night Pool 3 clash with the warning that if they do not come up with an improved performance they run the danger of being “blitzed.”
The Chiefs’ European club rugby debut ended in a 20-13 home defeat to Montpellier and some consolation of a losing bonus point but Bourgoin at Stade Pierre Rajon promise to provide another searching French test for the newcomers, although Bourgoin themselves had to settle for a losing bonus point from a 22-16 reverse at Newcastle Falcons.
“Anyone who knows rugby knows going to France are the toughest games you experience as a player and as a coach as well,” said backs coach Ali Hepher.
“It was disappointing against Montpellier as it was a game we really should have won with the team we had out. But ultimately we didn’t do enough things right, we didn’t make enough good decisions across the board and we didn’t manage the game very well to win it.
“We know we are going to have to buck up because if we perform like that on Friday, we’ll get blitzed.
“Had we nicked a draw at the end that would probably have brushed over a few things, but there are some guys in there who need to have a look at themselves and their decision-making.
“The reality is this is all part of their learning and sometimes you need to experience these days to grow and get better. But as long as they learn from it, that is the important thing.
“Across the board there are some senior guys that have got some lessons to learn from this game as well. All in all, though, I think we have all got to make sure we get those lessons, move on and then next time in the same situation make a different call.
“It was up to us to lead it and drive it from the front, but we didn’t have enough guys who were going to drive that game. We’ll work on that, we’ll improve them and they will get better as long as they learn the lessons. However, if it continues, it will be a long hard season.”
But while Hepher and head coach Rob Baxter were far from impressed with some aspects of the Chiefs’ display, it was not all doom and gloom.
“Some guys took their chance and there were definitely some positives out there, but unfortunately there weren’t enough out there furthering their claims,” added Hepher.
“Ideally, we’d have liked a lot of boys to be knocking on our door for selection but we do not have enough at this minute in time.”
One positive for the club were the returns to action of several key players, including Andrew Higgins, Junior Poluleuligaga and former skipper Richard Baxter, the latter not having featured since May when he helped the Chiefs gain promotion into English rugby’s top flight.
Baxter, the younger brother of head coach Rob, underwent surgery during the summer on a long-standing shoulder injury and his return to action has come at a timely moment for the Chiefs.
“It was an important step for a few of the guys, especially Richie who has been out a long time,” added Hepher.