Errors prove costly as Bath beat Exeter Chiefs again
ROB Baxter may have been frustrated by some aspects of Exeter Chiefs' latest defeat against Bath, but he insists mistakes were inevitable with so many inexperienced players on show.
The head coach made wholesale changes for the LV= Cup match at The Rec, which the Chiefs lost 16-6.
That included handing debuts to Kai Horstmann, who skippered the side from No. 8, and winger Watisoni Votu.
Luke Cowan-Dickie, who has recently been converted to hooker from prop, made his first senior start in the No. 2 jersey and a host of other youngsters also got a chance to shine.
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On the whole, Baxter was pleased with what his side took from the contest, despite extending their losing run against Bath.
"There were some good individual performances, large parts of what we wanted to achieve was very good," said Baxter.
"There were some hiccups. Our line-out stats ended up not being great, but with Luke Cowan-Dickie playing his first senior game for Exeter at hooker, line-outs are not going to be perfect. You have to accept that.
"We lost a couple of scrums that we would have preferred not to in pressure positions but it was a pack of forwards and front row that were playing together for the first time.
"Yes, you want to do better but sometimes you have to accept the odd mistake will happen.
"It's accepting those errors will happen and working through them. Luke Cowan-Dickie will be a much better player for having his first 60 minutes as a first-team hooker. He's going to have his second, third and fourth games at some stage and it's where we end up that's important, you can't always judge everything game by game."
Exeter's failure to cross the line in Saturday's match means they have scored just three tries in the last five outings, two of which were against European heavyweights Clermont Auvergne and Leinster.
While Baxter would like to see his side be more clinical, he is not unduly concerned at this stage.
"It's a little bit frustrating that we're not taking a few more of the chances we are creating," he said.
"They're not phantom chances, they're clear-cut chances. Damian Welch went over early on in the corner but the last pass was given as forward – it's a clear overlap that's been created that we didn't finish off as well as we needed to.
"Things like that were there, they were right in front of us, but it's easy to get frustrated and not see the genuine things that are going well."
One of the things that did please Baxter was the performance of some of the academy players.
Jack Nowell, Sam Hill, Henry Slade, Cowan-Dickie, Will Carrick-Smith and Joel Conlon all started the match, with Jack Yeandle, Alex Brown, Sam Simmonds and Justin Blanchet appearing off the bench.
Baxter hopes they can go on to provide the core of the Chiefs' first team in years to come. He said: "The performance of some of our players, particularly the young guys coming through, was very encouraging.
"With where we're heading as a club over a quite a long period of time, games like Saturday are massively important for us.
"It looked like we had a group of young players who could hopefully stick together for five or six years at this club and be a real backbone of the side."
The youngsters combined well in the first half to get Exeter off to a promising start. However, they could not make their superiority on the field count on the scoreboard.
With Welch having a try disallowed for a forward pass, all the visitors had to show for their efforts after the first 40 minutes were two penalties from fly-half Slade.
They were cancelled out by opposite number Tom Heathcote as the sides went into the break level at 6-6.
The momentum swung Bath's way in the second half, with former Ireland scrum-half Peter Stringer – on loan to Bath from Munster to cover for injuries – to the fore.
First he burrowed over the line from a line-out close to the line, then he exploited a hole in Exeter's defence on the blindside to score again from another line-out platform.
Heathcote couldn't convert either try but it was enough as handling errors let Exeter down in their first loss in the competition this season.