By Mark Stevens
Exeter Chiefs head coach Rob Baxter was full of praise for his side as they saw off the challenge of Harlequins in a pulsating Aviva Premiership encounter at the Twickenham Stoop.
With little to choose between either side at the turn, the visitors producing a powerful final quarter display to guide them to a 39-26 victory.
The win – Exeter’s 12th in the top flight this season – drew them level on 74 points with league leaders Wasps, although their rivals do have a game in hand against lowly Bristol this weekend.
This was, however, an impressive display from Rob Baxter’s side, who scored tries through Dave Ewers, Michele Campagnaro, Lachie Turner (2) and Henry Slade (pictured), who shared the remainder of the Chiefs points with fellow goalkicker Gareth Steenson.
Harlequins countered with tries of their own through Mat Luamanu, Tim Visser and Nick Evans, who also kicked three penalties alongside a conversion from Tim Swiel, but it was never enough to dent the hopes of the impressive Chiefs.
“That was a very tough game,” said Baxter at the final whistle. “I thought in the first half we had to work exceptionally hard, particularly in that first 20 minutes, but as I just said to the players, if you work hard enough that is where you start to reap your rewards.
“I think that the fact we were willing to work as hard as we did, if gave us some real belief that when we went into the changing rooms at half time, we said good things would happen.
“Anyone who has watched tonight will know Harlequins were very good and that they started the game with real intensity. As I said, we had to work hard to contain them in that first 20/25 minutes. As the half went on, though, we slowly grew into the game and by the end I felt we were more than comfortable dealing with their threats.”
Although the Chiefs held a slender lead at the turn, that was soon wiped out early in the second half when fly-half Evans picked off a pass from Ollie Devoto to race in from just inside the Exeter half to put the Londoners back in front.
To their credit, Baxter’s side refused to panic and as the minutes ticked by, slowly they regained their grip, eventually swotting asides the attentions of their hosts, courtesy of Turner’s try double, plus another from Slade.
Baxter added: “Some of the play from Lachie Turner and Olly Woodburn (pictured) – and the way the backs fashioned things out of small moments – that was very important for us and ultimately helped us make the key breakthrough in that last 20 minutes.”
The victory means Exeter remain in one of the two positions that will guarantee them a home semi-final next month, but Baxter in unconcerned at this stage about last four venues – and more the fact his team need to keep producing the goods.
“I think if you get so emotionally attached to a home semi-final you are losing the battle already aren’t you?” Baxter said. “For us it’s about turning up each week and playing well whether we are home or away. We are on a good run now without losing and why can’t that continue?
“Half those games have been away from home and it’s not been a big issue for us. I’m not going to put so much pressure on the players that they think each week they have to go out on the field and get a five-point win or else everything is wrong. Any win today would have been a great result for us. Five points is fantastic and it really helps us for the home semi-final but it’s not the be all and end all.
“It’s good because you want to play in front of your own supporters. Statistically it gives you a better chance of winning, financially it’s great and, in some ways, that’s probably one of the most important things. We have been to Saracens and won before, albeit not in such a high-profile game. Saracens would be very comfortable going away and very comfortable coming to Exeter. I hope that’s the way round it happens. They won’t see it as a big issue and I don’t think we should see it as a big issue.”