Fighting spirit at heart of Exeter comeback

Date published: January 1 2017

A stern half-time talk between coach and players was the catalyst for Exeter's fightback at Bath where they won for the first time ever in the Premiership on Saturday.

The Chiefs erased an 11-point deficit to beat Todd Blackadder's men 17-11 for an historic win at the Recreation Ground. Bath totally outplayed Exeter in the first 40 minutes, but they fought back brilliantly in the second-half, winger James Short scoring two tries in the final ten minutes, to clinch victory.

The win lifted Rob Baxter’s side to third in the standings, leapfrogging Bath in the process.

Baxter admitted post-match that it was a mixed display from his players, who clearly responded to some tough talking from their leader at the break to come out fighting in the second period.

"Physically we weren’t at the races in the first half,” said the Exeter head coach. "We were being beaten in every facet of the game and we had no go forward at all. For 50 minutes of the game today, Bath were very, very good.

"In the first half they controlled the set-piece, they had more go forward in their carries, we were making mistakes, their kick game was more productive than ours, and they had an energy and enthusiasm which was at a level that was well above ours. Also, I remember saying to Ali Hepher that it looked like Rokoduguni had been given a Harry Potter invisibility coat for Christmas. We couldn’t get a hand on him or get near him. He was outstanding in that first half.

"When it came to half time we didn’t really talk about technique or any tactical changes, we spoke more about the fact that we weren’t showing the attitude that is required to come here and win a top four game. That was the only thing we addressed and that was the biggest shift we made," he added.

"I know we weren’t perfect after half time, but we did stay in the fight and when you do that, incredible things can happen like today."

Indeed, incredible things did happen for the visitors during the final quarter in which they hammered home a defiant message. England internationals Jack Nowell and Luke Cowan-Dickie both impressed, while Short’s contribution off the bench will no doubt have put him firmly in the selection process for next weekend’s trip to reigning champions Saracens.

"We could have easily crumbled, but we didn’t," added Baxter. "We came through a defining moment early in the second half when Bath were camped in our corner and because we fought through that, we were then able to create scoring opportunities of our own. Personally, I have to give the players huge credit for the way they stepped up in that second half. That said, they are all going to have some questions asked of them on Monday as to why it took 40-odd minutes for that response to surface."