Exeter Chiefs come up short in a few crucial areas
A FEW parts of Exeter Chiefs' game were out of sorts against Saracens and that contributed to their heavy defeat, according to head coach Rob Baxter.
The Sandy Park boss felt key ingredients – such as communication and contact skills – were not up to their usual standard in the first match at Allianz Park.
Saracens went on to rack up four tries – three scored by props in the second half – as they recorded a 31-11 success.
While not happy to see his side make it five games in a row without a win in the Aviva Premiership, Baxter insists the long-term picture for the Chiefs is still looking rosy.
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"We obviously had a slightly different game plan going to Saracens than we did for the Sale game (the week before) and we didn't see it through well enough for it to pay dividends," he explained.
"We were still in the game at half-time, but that was because Charlie Hodgson had missed a couple of kicks rather than because we'd rammed home what we wanted to do.
"There were times in the game that we forced what we wanted to do and we were very competitive. The problem is that if Saracens get away from you on the scoreboard everything changes. Once they change the structure of their game you have to change as well and the game got away from us.
"We weren't good enough at putting them under pressure with our control of territory or control of the ball. We dropped the ball a couple of times, we didn't exit very well, we called some poor options and I don't think our kick-chase or contact skills were red hot, which are things we usually pride ourselves on.
"We were a little bit off in the contact area, a little bit off with our levels of communication, a bit off with our physicality and it added up to what happened.
"There were some decent individual performances – there were big ball carries and big moments – but you have to have more of them and link them together better than we did.
"In the bigger picture there's no massive drama going to Saracens and losing. We conceded more points away at Saracens last year and finished fifth.
"My job is about weekly results but also managing the bigger picture and our management of the bigger picture is to remember the Premiership can be a little bit like this, what we've got to do is knuckle down and play very well in a home fixture.
"It's the home fixtures that we've based our season around so far, we've only lost one Premiership game at home this season, that's what we have to remind ourselves of and not getting carried away with an away loss against one of the best sides in the Premiership."
Gareth Steenson opened the scoring with a penalty, but not until he had missed an earlier chance and opposite number Charlie Hodgson had missed three shots at goal.
One of Saracens' penalties also saw Exeter full-back Luke Arscott yellow carded.
Hodgson made amends for his misses with the boot as he shot past Damian Welch – making his Premiership debut – to cross for a try next to the posts that he also converted.
Two more missed penalties from Steenson saw the visitors turn around 7-3 down in the first Premiership match to be played on an artificial surface.
Hodgson banged over a penalty early in the second period but his side went through the gears and started to stretch the Chiefs' defence.
Former England prop Matt Stevens barged over from close range for a try Hodgson converted.
Steenson cut the deficit to 17-6 with his second penalty but current England squad member Mako Vunipola charged over for the hosts' third try and Hodgson added the extras once more.
A second try from Vunipola brought up the bonus point for Saracens and Hodgson's conversion took him to 16 points in the match.
There was still time for skipper Rich Baxter to drive over from close range to pull a try back for Exeter, but his older brother and coach admitted there were a lot of lessons to be learned.
"There are things we can use from the Saracens game that will nudge us on a bit and give us something to target in the next few weeks," he said.
"You've got to deal with these things as they come and not get carried away with tying every performance together.
"It's not about whether it was better or worse than Sale, it's seeing what we did well, what we didn't do well and what we need to work on going into London Welsh this weekend."