Clermont fixture key to progress – Baxter
Exeter Chiefs head coach Rob Baxter admitted next Saturday evening's Sandy Park clash with French giants Clermont Auvergne will have a huge bearing on the club's Heineken Cup hopes.
The Chiefs produced a superb performance over the weekend to earn a losing bonus point from their 9-6 defeat by Cup holders Leinster in Dublin. At the same time, Clermont Auvergne were hammering Scarlets 49-16.
"It really is a big game for us," said Baxter. "We have got to make sure we don't get a bit pleased with ourselves and think we performed really well in Dublin, draw a breath, and then get stung next Saturday.
"We have been playing well at Sandy Park, and we have got to keep driving home the way we want to perform, and make sure we get something out of the Clermont game."
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Baxter was very proud of his players' performance against a Leinster side crowned European champions three times in the past four seasons, but was also left to ponder what could have been after Ignacio Mieres missed a penalty chance from close to halfway with the last kick of the match.
"There were large parts of our display which were very, very good," he said. "When you play pretty well, and you come pretty close, it is disappointing not to finish the job off.
"We talk every week about performances, and, if you put one in, you are going to be there or thereabouts – and we were on Saturday. We came up a little bit short, and sometimes you have just got to take that on the chin."
A draw was the least that Exeter deserved from their afternoon's work, but Baxter said: "I don't think you can ever say you deserve anything from a game.
"You have just got to work extremely hard, and, if your moments come, you have got to try and take them.
"We created a few moments we didn't quite see off, but Leinster are a dangerous side, and for quite a large part of the second half, they had us under a great amount of pressure, and we struggled to deal with that at times.
"However, in terms of fighting spirit, working hard, and playing some good rugby, Saturday had everything from us, really, other than probably enough points."
Exeter were very impressive in the first half, and reached the break level pegging at 3-3.
"We had a good intensity about us. I thought we were a little bit hesitant in the first ten minutes, and didn't quite make the killer passes we maybe could have done to make things a little bit easier for ourselves, and that is probably down to just a little bit of nervousness, but, once we settled down, we looked relatively comfortable," Baxter explained.
"You have got to remember, though, that Leinster have had a bit of an up and down start to the season, and didn't get their Irish internationals immediately and didn't really get the run of fixtures into the game that we had.
"We have had six very tough fixtures, and probably rolled into the match pretty battle-hardened, and it stood us in good stead because we were capable of playing at a high tempo.
"We've got a very important losing bonus point, which in these pools can prove crucial, and we didn't let Leinster get a bonus point, so it is a three-point deficit from this game, and the reality is, when we play Leinster at home, we will be battling to overturn that deficit.
"There are a lot of positives for us, bonus points away from home can be very important, and our level of performance was really, really good."
Baxter said there would certainly be no blame placed on the shoulders of Mieres for missing the very difficult last-minute kick.
"It was a shot to nothing, really," he said. "If he missed it, it was not the end of the world because it was a tough chance, and, if he slotted it, he was a hero. That's what kickers do, they have to step up there and take shots at goal.
"We are certainly not blaming him for anything, and it was great to have that opportunity at the end."