Home » General » Rob Baxter blasts “un-Exeter like” first-half performance in Chiefs' 32-16 win over Newport Dragons

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Rob Baxter had strong words for his Exeter Chiefs players after a major scare in their win over Newport Gwent Dragons on Friday night.

Exe found themselves trailing 10-0 and 13-5 in the first half in south Wales in what was their final preseason friendly ahead of their Premiership opener at Wasps on Sunday.

Baxter’s men did rally to record a 32-16 victory, helped by a hat-trick from Olly Woodburn and other tries from Luke Cowan-Dickie and Ollie Devoto.

But the head coach was not in forgiving mood when reflecting on what was an uncomfortable work-out at a hostile Rodney Parade.

“We looked a bit ordinary and un-Exeter like,” he said. “Great credit to the Dragons, their intensity in the first 20-25 minutes rattle us a little bit and knocked us out of our stride.

“I think we probably dropped into trying to play pretty rugby which looked quite fancy and nice at times but actually it was a bit loose and a bit messy.

“We became a bit ragged and lost discipline which gave them penalties. I said to the lads at half-time it looked like we had come under-prepared and not quite hitting the pitch in the mindset we needed. We lacked intensity, we lacked a bit of direction and we lacked a bit of chat.”

Things did improve significantly for the Chiefs, particularly after the break, when they ran in 19 points to the Dragons’ three.

Read more: Exeter Chiefs’ Dave Ewers to miss start of the Premiership season with knee injury

But with a trip to Coventry looming – followed by a home showdown with reigning Premiership and European champions Saracens, Baxter knows that improvements will be required.

But he felt that a stiff test against a game Dragons outfit was the ideal way to warm up for a difficult start to the new season.

“We are going away to Wasps and this is what you need. It was a tough game,” he said. “Fair play to the lads, we got that composure back pretty well. We weathered the storm and worked our way back in and to tie it up by half-time was pretty satisfying.

“We put a little more phase play together, we got a little bit more physical and you saw the results – the scoreline slowly mounted.

“As coaching staff I think we knew it was coming but as players, although the guys had looked at the tape and we’d talked about them being fast starters, I don’t know if we were mentally ready for it. The one thing we didn’t do was let it continue though. We didn’t stay rattled, we dealt with it and that is a very good sign.”

One problem Baxter does have is the news that Dave Ewers is set to miss the start of the Premiership season with a knee injury.

The flanker did not play in Friday’s win, and was seen in the stands wearing a knee support.

The exact severity of the injury is not yet known, but it looks highly likely that the 25-year-old will face a spell on the sidelines.

The Zimbabwe-born blindside missed three months of last season with a knee problem, although this is not believed to be linked to his latest setback.

He started the Sandy Park club’s two earlier preseason games – a 45-3 win over the Scarlets and the 25-19 victory over Ulster. Rob Baxter does have options to cover Ewers’ absence, but being without such an influential and consistent performer will still come as a blow on the eve of the new campaign.

Read more: Newport Gwent Dragons 16 Exeter Chiefs 32 – match report: Exe end preseason in style