Chiefs players frustrated by run of results over festive period
ROB Baxter admits his Exeter Chiefs players are 'frustrated' by the way things have gone in their last three matches.
Saturday's 30-19 loss at home against Northampton meant the Sandy Park outfit collected three points from their games against Gloucester, Bath and the Saints.
Head coach Baxter had seen the three outings as important battles to keep them in the reckoning in the top half of the table.
However, a few important decisions went against them at Gloucester and at home against Bath and they are now seventh.
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The frustration the players have felt stems from them not being able to finish off the first two games of the recent block rather than their performances as a whole.
"The players have been a bit frustrated by the last three weeks but that's rugby," said Baxter.
"The frustration is not about us feeling bad about the way we've played, it's more about not seeing off the job over a period.
"A couple of wins were definitely there for us. Last weekend (against Northampton) I can't say we were so deserving and it was one decision either way – it wasn't, we had to do a few things a bit better than we did.
"You can get frustrated about it so long as you're frustrated about it in the right way. I think we have been.
"It's rare a season in the Premiership is all ups. I hope we've got a few more ups to come but the boys are working hard, staying focused and I think they're playing some very good rugby."
It was at this stage last season that the Chiefs started to up the ante after a disappointing return around Christmas.
After 13 Premiership matches – the same as they have played in the league this term – they had collected the same number of wins (six) and the same number of points (31) as they have managed this time around. The only difference was that they were sixth in the table, not seventh.
Baxter is confident his players can go on another good run of results and climb the table, especially when the pitches start to firm up again as the weather improves.
"We've got to make sure we're realistic about where we are," he said. "In the first two games (against Gloucester and Bath) we're four points off two wins. Win away at Gloucester and beat Bath at home and everyone's as happy as Larry.
"Massive parts of our game held up but we've got to keep working on the bits that can improve all the time. Things like speed of thought, decision making, sharpness and focus are things that improve with experience.
"We're pretty comfortable with the As, Bs and Cs of the way we play, we've just got to keep working on the Ds and Es.
"I'm still confident that we've got a lot of good rugby in us. When the grounds firm up, if we can really keep our foot on the pedal and play some exciting stuff, we're going to be fine.
"We're in the change-over period now between wet-weather rugby and having the opportunity to play and we've got to make sure we keep the right balance."
Exeter were looking to play at a fast pace from the off on Saturday and that saw them start well, taking the game to Northampton.
Gareth Steenson landed a penalty while his side were on top but the Saints soon replied as Stephen Myler fielded Luke Arscott's sliced clearance and Ben Foden skipped around his opposite number as he slipped before putting Ken Pisi over the line.
Myler converted that score and added a penalty as Northampton started to get the edge in the scrums after Exeter's early dominance.
Steenson kicked his second penalty when Saints skipper Dylan Hartley was shown yellow for killing the ball, but only after Myler had opened a 10-point cushion.
Trailing 13-6 at the break, things didn't go Exeter's way early in the second period as Haydn Thomas went off with a cut above an eye and Phil Dollman hobbled off.
Two penalties from Steenson to one from Myler saw Northampton lead 16-12 when Hartley returned to the fray.
But the visitors edged further clear when Soane Tonga'uiha dotted down from a rolling maul for a try Myler converted.
Sireli Naqelevuki crossed for a try to get the Chiefs back in the contest, with replacement Ignacio Mieres' conversion leaving them just 23-19 down with 13 minutes to play.
However, TV official Geoff Warren awarded a try to Northampton No. 8 GJ van Velze eight minutes later as the Saints wrapped up the win. Myler added the extras.
With Jack Yeandle on for his Premiership debut, Exeter ended the game with nothing to show for their efforts.