Baxter will be patient as he seeks gradual improvement
ROB Baxter is always keen to remind people how long it took Exeter Chiefs to get to where they are at the top of the game.
The Sandy Park outfit were not an overnight success, it took years of gradual improvement for them to take their place at the top table.
The head coach takes the same attitude when it comes to taking the team to the next step and bringing on youngsters.
He fielded a side showing 15 changes from the one that took on the might of Leinster the week before when the Chiefs crashed 16-6 at Bath in the LV= Cup last weekend.
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The majority of the players will get another chance to don the Exeter jersey this Saturday when they take on Northampton in th final round of pool games.
With Harlequins four points clear at the top of Pool One ahead of Sunday's match against the Ospreys, it would take a freak set of results for the Londoners not to progress.
However, Baxter is looking at the long-term picture not the immediate gains as a host of fringe players try to impress.
One area they will be looking to improve is their ability to cross the whitewash, as the Chiefs have scored just three tries in the last five matches – one of which was a penalty try.
While he would obviously like his side to be more clinical, Baxter knows it could take time for things to fall into place.
"We tell the boys a lot that there are no immediate fixes," he said. "Most of the things we ask them to work on are things we don't anticipate them to do after one training session or two weeks on the pitch.
"You have to keep taking little steps. The first step towards learning to finish tries is you create as many opportunities as possible.
"We got masses right at the weekend (against Bath). The first opportunity we created we almost executed perfectly until our last pass. To create an actual walk-in for someone out on the wing, against such a good defensive team as Bath, is quite rare.
"That's what we've got to get better at but we'll keep learning and we'll continue to slowly move forward as a side.
"We have to make sure that everyone remembers what got us to the Premiership and where we are now; it's not been big leaps and bounds, it's been a nice steady incremental rise.
"Sometimes you get to a period when the rises become a little tougher to get. I think we're going through that right now."
Baxter will be forced into making several changes this weekend due to international call-ups.
Tighthead Craig Mitchell is with the Wales squad preparing for Saturday's Six Nations opener against Ireland.
In addition, Sam Hill, Jack Nowell, Henry Slade, Luke Cowan-Dickie and Joel Conlon could feature for England under-20s against Scotland on Friday evening.
While Baxter wants to keep as many of his front-line players as possible wrapped in cotton wool for the trip to Sale the following Friday, those who have not had much game time recently could be called upon.
"With some positions we're pretty strong so we may bring a couple of guys in, particularly guys who haven't had masses of game time in the last few weeks," he said. "There is an element of making sure the game against Sale we can go in as full strength as possible with as many fit guys as possible.
"We had guys like Mark Foster and Myles Dorrian on the bench (last weekend) so we have experienced people there who can come in and fill those slots.
"I think we'll put out a strong side and have a really good go at the game."