The players and coaches got it exactly right against Blues
OK, so the nerves were jangling just a bit when the Cardiff Blues came to town on Sunday.
Heineken Cup rugby at Sandy Park. Our very own Exeter Chiefs playing in the world's top club competition. Live TV streaming the game all over Europe, the eyes of the nation on our club, our city and our lads. A star-studded opposition boasting four British & Irish Lions, including the man of the series and the Lions and Wales captain, plus no less than seven full internationals.
Short of an international, the calibre of the team facing our boys was as impressive as I had ever witnessed at Sandy Park. Just to remind you – the Lions man of the series, Leigh Halfpenny. Sam Warburton, the Lions tour captain. The Welsh Grand Slam-winning captain and seven more internationals. At Sandy Park. Super Sunday or what?
Make no mistake, this was the real deal, a massive fixture and one of the biggest days in the history of our club.
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However, this was Sandy Park, Exeter! Rob, his coaching staff, the players and the tribe just hadn't read the Blues script!
Undaunted by the lofty reputations of those in front of them, the Chiefs produced the most sublime 50 minutes of rugby I have ever been lucky enough to witness at our club.
From Damian Welch running a brilliant line-out strategy to Phil Dollman igniting the backline and Tom Johnson rampaging around the park, 15 Chiefs combined to completely blow away the men from the Principality.
Tactically the coaching staff had called the game perfectly. Opting to run from everywhere, our lads kept the ball out of the hands of those British & Irish Lions, while pulverising anything that came near the breakdown.
Such was the Chiefs' intensity, pace and aggression, the highly-talented Blues were blown away by our very own Exeter Chiefs. So dominant were our boys that we only had to make 17 tackles in the first half – less than the Cardiff team missed!
With the match all but done at half-time, we continued the assault into the second period with Ian Whitten dotting down to seal the victory. Before the now customary raft of substitutions and two yellow cards, it looked like the guys were en route to their biggest victory.
In keeping with Chiefs' bold, confident and inspirational coaching policy, changes were made allowing all the squad to experience Heineken Cup rugby. It may have looked a bit asinine to the spectator as the Blues were allowed to fight back with a second-half revival, but as our team continues to develop and grow, familiarity with elite competition will pay rich rewards in the long term. Mind you, I don't think Dom Armand would have been too pleased to make his home debut just at the moment we were reduced to 13 men!
On the subject of Dom, it was great to finally welcome him along with the Tongan torpedo Fetu'u Vainikolo into the Chiefs fold for their competitive home debuts. Such is the depth of the squad, the loss of early-season tyro Tom James to an 11th hour injury was hardly noticeable, nor was the absence of one of our talismen, 'Big Jim' Scaysbrook.
Post-game, my boxer analogy from last week came to mind. It felt like we had such a ferocious arsenal and relentless first 60 minutes about us, allowing no answer from our opponent. We did so much damage to them but at the same time managed to punch ourselves out a bit in the process. Had Cardiff been a lesser team it wouldn't have been a problem, but this was the Heineken Cup and the pedigree of our opposition beyond question. They rescued a bonus, but the five point-win was already in the Chiefs' bag.
Even before the dust has time to settle on super Sunday, another huge challenge awaits our lads with the trip to Glasgow to face the Warriors. This pride of Scotland club also boasts a glittering line up of international quality. They showed something of their hand when they came here in August and demonstrated their quality further to score four tries against the mighty Toulon in France last week.
I am reminded of an acronym my father used to throw at me as a young aspirant over 20 years ago: 'Team is all – Together Everyone Achieves More.' If our boys continue to hold firm together as one united team it will matter little who we face. When on our mettle this Exeter Chiefs TEAM is a match for any club.
Moving to matters a little less elevated. My Exmouth boys were in a much more charitable mood last week than the Chiefs, playing against a strong Shelford National League side.
After a stuttering start to their season, the Cambridge club travelled to Devon the night before as part of their initiative to kick-start their season. Aki Lea and his boys made a blistering start and our lads conspired to gift four (yes four) interception tries in a 42-20 loss.
After six games in National League Two, the Cockles have managed to garner 12 points, which, on reflection, is no little achievement, but the frustration for players as well as coaches is the lack of consistency in performance. Following the barnstorming demolition of league leaders Bournemouth, we've yet to reproduce a similar performance.
Serendipitously, that game followed a hefty defeat at the hands of Taunton so I for one am hoping that we will find our form to produce another big performance on Saturday when Exmouth head deep into Cornish territory to face the might of Redruth and the famous Hellfire Corner.
If the trip to Glasgow is a step too far for some of the tribe, but you fancy catching some rugby this weekend, we could certainly do with a few Devonian voices in the crowd for what promises to be a great game between the Cockles and the Reds.
And finally, in amongst the disappointment at the Imperial Ground, yours truly once again managed to get over the whitewash to dot down my third score of the season.
This one was a long way removed from the standard Bentley flop over. On Saturday I managed to burst forward at a gallop to cover all of three yards, to latch onto a pass from my fellow former Chief, Richard Bolt! Stunning stuff, hey?
Being something of a competitive soul, it has not escaped my attention that a certain Dean Mumm is also a second row scoring tries at an alarming rate so far this season and I would like to publicly lay down a gauntlet for the remainder of the season. I have 50p that says I will score more tries than our favourite Aussie! Watch this space as I will report back next week if Dean chooses to take up the challenge! Don't you just love this game?
Until the next time, stay safe and enjoy your rugby.