Baxter praises 'important' win for Exeter against Quins
ROB Baxter did not shy away from telling his players how important last Saturday's game against Harlequins could be in Exeter Chiefs' season.
So the head coach was delighted that his side played with composure and tactical nous to record their second win against last season's champions this term.
And Baxter thinks the 27-16 success has kept his side's season alive, with Exeter in the race to finish in the top six.
With Wasps and Gloucester both suffering away defeats on Friday evening, Baxter knew a win would leave Exeter one victory away from those sides in the top half of the table.
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And he got the result he was looking for as second-half tries from Damian Welch and Luke Arscott – allied to 17 points from the prolific boot of Gareth Steenson – saw them emerge victorious in West London.
Baxter said: "It was an important result and that's the key for me.
"We sat down with the guys on the morning of the game and said it was an important game. We're very good at looking at the season as a whole but the way the season was panning out, with the results on Friday night, we knew the season was there for us if we could perform and get some points.
"We talked about how important the game was, how we wanted the season to stay alive for us, where we wanted to be, and we followed that through with a great attitude. The attitude and intensity we showed right throughout the game was the key.
"Last weekend we kept going and kept following through one good thing with another good thing. We've upped the intensity a little bit in our defensive system to crank up a bit more line speed, so we've done some tinkering and those things came off at the weekend.
"There was a real competitive edge to the performance and when we're in that frame of mind we're competitive against everybody. Sometimes you come through and get the win, other times you can end up just short."
Exeter had lost on their previous three visits to The Stoop but they coped with the occasion far better this time and reaped the rewards.
Baxter felt his side handled the pressure well, and turned that back on the hosts as they needed to win to stay at the top of the table.
"As the game wore on, we looked more and more composed and we were determined to keep playing," he said.
"We controlled territory very well and we managed the pressure of the game very well, which is probably something we've been guilty of not doing well in the past.
"As soon as we were one point down and felt the game was coming our way, we played a really good tactical game. That built pressure on Harlequins and they eventually cracked.
"We weren't 100 per cent clinical, we did create good try-scoring opportunities that we didn't take, but we maintained pressure. We didn't back down after one mistake, we went back and maintained another period of pressure that then led to a try.
"In a way Luke's try was a little bit fortunate with the way the ball bounced but those are the type of tries we haven't been scoring this season, where they come because of a sustained period of play. Harlequins had had to drop out from their 22 two or three times, they'd had a couple of defensives scrums and line-outs and it was almost a build-up of scenarios that created that one opportunity that Luke took very well."
The first opportunity of the game fell to the home side and Ugo Monye ran a great line off Jordan Turner-Hall to dot down for a try the returning Nick Evans converted.
Exeter, who handed Alex Brown his first Premiership start at tighthead in place of the injured Hoani Tui, responded with two penalties in quick succession from Steenson.
The Irish fly-half put his side ahead with his third successful kick but Ben Botica, an early replacement for the injured Ollie Lindsay-Hague, gave the hosts a 10-9 advantage at the break.
Botica and Steenson landed two penalties each early in the second half but Exeter were growing in authority as the game wore on.
Steenson lit the blue touch-paper with a searing break but Arscott couldn't take Matt Jess' pass deep in Harlequins' 22. However, the Chiefs kept the pressure on and Welch crossed the line from close range for his second try in as many matches.
The icing on the cake was left to Arscott, who spotted a gap in Quins' defence after skipper Tom Hayes had tapped back a 22 drop out and the full-back sprinted behind the posts for a try Steenson converted before mass celebrations from the travelling faithful.