Rob Baxter hails efforts of Exeter Chiefs in defeat
Exeter Chiefs head coach Rob Baxter felt his players did the club proud in many ways during the 46-3 Heineken Cup thrashing by Clermont Auvergne on Saturday night.
The Chiefs once again conceded six tries to the classy French side, as they did at Sandy Park in October, but four of those scores came in the final 20 minutes of the game, when the Chiefs had been badly hit by injuries.
"We picked up quite a few injuries with guys who had to come off, and with walking wounded who stayed on as well, but it was a massively physical game," said Baxter.
"You can't go to Clermont and not commit physically to it, and I think, in some ways, the bumps and bruises and the injuries are an indication of how physically committed to the game we really were. We got stuck into things.
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"We did miss tackles, and we also got outplayed in a couple of areas, that is the truth, but our commitment was there to be really in the thick of the game, and that is how you learn and experience things.
"I said to the guys that I wanted to make sure they experienced something special on Saturday night. It is a fantastic place to play rugby, one of the most challenging places in which you are ever going to play, and let's make sure we do ourselves proud, and I think in a lot of ways we did that."
Second-half injury problems also affected Exeter in their first meeting with Clermont at Sandy Park back in October, when the Frenchmen turned around a 12-10 half-time deficit to win 46-12, and Baxter admitted this weekend's game had left him with mixed feelings overall.
"There were some good parts from us, and we always said we were going to go to Clermont and challenge ourselves in the way we wanted to play and what we wanted to do, and we were probably more competitive than the final scoreline suggests," he said.
"I'm not trying to cover up any areas of weakness or mistakes we made, because we did make some, but we had to play more than a quarter of the game out of shape because of injuries. That happened at Sandy Park against Clermont as well, and what is already a difficult challenge becomes even more difficult.
"I was a little bit frustrated by that, and also with parts of our game in the first half, when maybe we played the scoreboard a little bit more than we played the game, and that is something you really have to work hard not to do.
"Even though it was a fantastic first try from Clermont, it came out of a little bit of nothing against us, and we got a little bit flustered, did a couple of silly things, and then conceded another try, and things started to get tougher.
"But, just after half-time, we got our minds straight, and 17 points behind is not the biggest margin in the world, and, if you get a score then, it all starts to feel more comfortable for you, but unfortunately we couldn't get it.
"We were competitive for a massive part of the second half, and then, boom, two or three things went wrong for us, and they just doubled up very quickly, and then all of a sudden Clermont are chasing a bonus point and the momentum is with them.
"That can happen to you against a very good side, and what we have to do is knuckle down and work hard to come through these things."
Exeter have now gone four tough matches without a victory, and Baxter said: "There are no easy answers, there is no magic wand.
"I can't suddenly say I know what all the issues are, and we will suddenly be a team that can come to Clermont and win next year, because it doesn't work like that.
"This is our first experience of the Heineken Cup, and we have to make sure we enjoy these challenges and are prepared to learn from them, and that they don't crack us.
"They are steps on the ladder we have got to keep climbing, and the Premiership is a bit the same for us. What we have got to do is stay patient with each other."