Rob Baxter: 'The performance at Gloucester was our best yet'
ROB Baxter believes Exeter Chiefs' performance at Gloucester last weekend was their best at Kingsholm to date – even though they lost.
The Sandy Park outfit triumphed 28-27 in the Cherry & Whites' backyard last season but Baxter knows that was when the hosts were slightly off form.
This term they are on a roll and the head coach was pleased his players performed so well, with a few questionable refereeing decisions costing them in the end.
Hooker Simon Alcott scored the only try of the game – his second in successive matches – but Freddie Burns kept piling on the points with the boot for Gloucester.
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"In some ways the performance at Gloucester was probably our best performance up there," said Baxter.
"I know we won up there last season but while we played well and scored some tries it was against a Gloucester team that was on a bit of a wobble compared to a Gloucester team this year that's looking strong.
"We also need to remember last year we took the lead in the last minute and this year we lost the lead in the last five or six minutes.
"The two are so close it's difficult to call, but to go away over the Christmas period to Gloucester I think shows that we're still improving, still working our way towards the bigger, more established clubs in the Premiership."
However, Baxter could not hide his irritation at some of the decisions referee Llyr ApGeraint Roberts made in the match.
Burns kicked six penalties to win the contest but Baxter felt several of those should not have been given against Exeter – and some should have been awarded in their favour.
As well as some decisions against prop Hoani Tui in scrums, Baxter was irked by the official's calls at several breakdowns.
"There's two or three very dubious ones that the more you look at them the more you can't understand them," Baxter said.
"The Gloucester loosehead three times in a row pulls Hoani down as hard as he can. There's a pure and simple tug downwards.
"The ones that were kickable penalties were at the breakdown. There was one against Gonzalo Camacho where he's clearly allowed to compete for the ball and the penalty should go his way but for some reason he's told to release the ball, which he does do, and then the penalty still goes against him.
"There was a clear one against James Scaysbrook where he's the first arrival, clearly entitled to go for the ball, and he gets penalised for putting his hands in a ruck when it's not even a ruck.
"Aly Muldowney is penalised for counter-rucking for coming in the side when he's clearly the first arrival and coming through the gate and gets cleared out from the side.
"Those are the tough ones because they're not even 50/50s, they're clear errors. The 50/50 ones you always have to take on the chin, the clear-cut ones are harder to swallow.
"That's sport, they'll be another day when we'll win because we'll get two or three penalties we don't deserve.
"We've never been a team that says it's all somebody else's fault, we've always tried to find areas we can be better in and that's what we've got to continue to be. We've got to be hard on ourselves."
The sides turned around level at 6-6 after Steenson and opposite number Burns had both slotted two penalties.
Home scrum-half Jimmy Cowan went closest to claiming a try but Aly Muldowney held him up, and Burns also missed a drop goal chance.
Two more penalties from Burns opened a 12-6 lead before Steenson replied with his third successful kick. That took the Irishman past 800 points in the league for Exeter – still more than 200 behind Andy Green and 700 adrift of Tony Yapp's record 1,526 in the league.
Steenson was not finished yet as he converted Alcott's try, with the 29-year-old muscling his way over from close range.
That 18-12 lead did not last long as Burns landed his fifth penalty before kicking the winner with six minutes left on the clock.