Exeter Chiefs still positive despite Sharks loss
Exeter Chiefs hooker Neil Clark insists the Devon club are remaining very positive about their prospects for the rest of the season, despite last Friday's very disappointing Aviva Premiership defeat at bottom side Sale Sharks.
The Chiefs were hoping to win that game to put them in a strong position in the battle for a top-six finish and a possible place in next season's Heineken Cup.
However, they let slip a 16-5 lead early in the second half to go down to a disappointing 21-16 defeat at Salford City Stadium.
They are currently only four points behind sixth-place Northampton, but two of their next three games are away to top-three sides Saracens this Saturday, and Harlequins, who are the reigning Premiership champions, early next month.
Unless they return to winning ways in the league pretty quickly, their season is in danger of petering out, with their involvement in Europe and the LV= Cup already at an end.
"There is a long way to go, and we can't start thinking like that," said Clark, who is celebrating his testimonial season.
"We are still a very positive side, with positive players and positive coaches, and we won't start thinking about stuff like that, but we have given ourselves a heck of a challenge now.
"We will hopefully have a fantastic training week leading up to the Saracens game."
Exeter famously won 23-9 at Saracens in their first year in the Premiership in 2010, and they will take confidence from memories of that glorious day in the club's history into the game.
With the RBS Six Nations Championship taking a weekend off, Sarries might be able to welcome back some of their internationals, but Clark said: "We have been up to Saracens before and come away with a win, and we will be going there with the same mentality we had that day."
That away win over Saracens, in the year they were crowned Premiership champions, took place at Vicarage Road, but the Londoners have now moved to a new home at Allianz Park in Hendon.
It has an artificial pitch, and Saturday will see the first Premiership match played on such a surface, and in front of a 10,000 sell-out crowd.
Exeter are perhaps suitable first visitors, as they do a fair bit of their training on a rubber crumb pitch at Sandy Park, so it should hold few fears for them.
"We haven't been blessed with the best of weather down in Devon. The pitches have been pretty boggy, and we are trying to look after the first-team pitch, which is fantastic anyway, to try and keep it in as best nick as possible," explained Clark, the former Bath and Bristol hooker.
"As a result, we have been doing a lot of training on the rubber crumb pitch, and next Saturday will be interesting. It will be a new experience for a lot of the boys."
The Exeter players were given the weekend off to rest up after Friday's defeat, and Clark said they really had to point the finger of blame at themselves for the disappointing result at the Salford City Stadium.
"It was a tough defeat to take, after having such a dominant display in the first half, and I think we have only got ourselves to blame, if we are being honest," said the 31-year-old.
"We got on the wrong side of the referee, gave away too many silly penalties in the wrong places, and fair play to Sale, they took their opportunities, and ended up winning the second half, and ultimately winning the game."
Exeter could have been out of sight at the interval, but they butchered some golden scoring opportunities in the first half and only led 13-5.
One of those chances involved Clark, who could have been celebrating his first ever Premiership try when he received the ball close to the line, but instead opted to ship possession on to full-back Luke Arscott, and the pass was adjudged forward.
"I was guilty of throwing a forward pass two metres out, and there were other opportunities we squandered," said Clark.
"I should maybe have just stuck my head down and carried it, but when you have got someone like Luke outside you, I thought the best thing to do was to get the ball to him as quickly as possible."
He added: "We said at half-time that Sale would obviously throw the kitchen sink at us in the second half, and our aim was to just weather the storm for the first ten to 20 minutes, and keep building on the score, and we started off by doing that with a penalty, but our lack of discipline ultimately cost us dearly.
"With a side like Sale fighting for their lives, they pounced on every opportunity, and full credit to them."