‘Bad Habits and Painful Lessons’ – Rob Baxter defeats Exeter Chiefs’ final loss to Harlequins

Rob Baxter believes Saturday’s 38-40 loss to the Harlequins in the 2020/21 Gallagher Premiership final will give his side a painful lesson to learn and lift more silverware in the future.

The Chiefs have been a dominant force in English club rugby for the past six years, but now have just two league titles to show for a half-dozen trips to the final after winning the Premiership and the Cup. European champions Heineken in 2019/20 with the same team.

Exeter rugby manager Baxter said he felt something was wrong for much of this season as his players had to physiologically acclimate to being big favorites and tried to rediscover the hunger necessary to win great knockout matches.

Speaking after the final at Twickenham, Baxter said: “I hope the players are upset because we weren’t at our best today.

“The Harlequins won the game and they deserve the applause.

“We still have a good season, we finished second in the championship, we won a good semi-final. [40-30 against Sale Sharks], we have beaten a lot of good teams in recent weeks but overall we always felt that there was a little more in us.

“We waited and I think we had a few players who managed too much, thinking that next week we’re going to step up a little more and then a little more, and actually that’s a bad habit to take.

“That’s how I felt, that we felt like everything was always going to be fine, but in big games you have to go out and win and today we never did.”

The Chiefs led at Twickenham in the 72nd minute thanks to tries from Jonny Gray, Alec Hepburn, Sam Simmonds and Ollie Devoto who had led Exeter 31-26, but a pair of converted tries from young Quins winger Louis Lynagh, skillfully converted since the sideline by Marcus Smith, snatched victory despite a late score from Stuart Hogg.

Baxter said the Chiefs now need to rediscover that hunger that makes any team dangerous, without panicking and throwing away all the good work that has made the Devon club a European heavyweight.

“The Harlequins had that little more emotion, that little more death, that little more that you need at the end of the day,” Baxter said. “They had a little more than what we brought to the table.

“It’s the challenge to be favorites.

“If you look back at a team that makes it regularly to the finals or has won things, you come into those finals as guys who have been there and have won things before, as favorites and you yourself. wait for this to happen for you.

“We are missing two points, there is nothing serious with us as a team. We played in a grand finale from a neutral point of view, and we got to a terribly short point, so there’s nothing dramatic about us.

“In the last few minutes of the last game of the season, we narrowly missed.

“The challenge is how to stay a good team, not to overreact but to deal honestly with the things that we have to deal with.

“I think we will, we have a very honest group of players.

The Chiefs have had another impressive domestic season, with Sam Simmonds the league’s leading try scorer with 21, most team tries (103), best defense and most wins ( 17).

But Saturday was a missed opportunity, with the challenge of being champion in 2021/22 to be tougher with Saracens returning to the Premiership and playing with a point to prove spending a year in the league as punishment for breaking the rules. of the league’s salary cap. .

While some players have left the Saracens, their core of international superstars have remained, placing the London team among next season’s title contenders with defeated semi-finalists Bristol Bears and Sale Sharks both appearing to be on a course. ascending.

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Baxter said, “I think this game is one of those lessons that could potentially take us to the next level.

“We’ve learned a tough lesson over the past few weeks, there have been messages that I have tried to tell the players but I think deep down because it’s always been long before they think, ‘oh c ‘is just Rob, he’s just saying it, it will be fine. Today it hurt them and it’s a really important lesson to learn.

“We still have a lot of players young enough to make it to several other finals, today it’s that valuable lesson that takes you to the next level.”

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