Rob Baxter waves to the spirit of the players as Exeter Chiefs battle Sale Sharks to claim sixth place in Premiership final

Rob Baxter praised the reaction of his Exeter Chiefs players after a tough week after seeing them book their sixth consecutive Premiership Final appearance with a thrilling victory over the Sale Sharks at Sandy Park.

The Chiefs defeated the visitors in a home and away game before ultimately winning 40-30. They face the Harlequins at Twickenham on Saturday for a third Premiership title.

But they did so by missing key men Dave Ewers and Sam Skinner, both of whom were controversially barred after high tackles in the narrow victory over Sale a week earlier.

They will also miss the final on Saturday.

But Baxter was delighted to see his players use that backhand in their favor in what was a thunderous semi-final.

“I am very happy,” said the Chiefs rugby manager.

“Obviously the difficulty we had over the week with the two named and banned guys and so on – it was hard for us, but also good for us because it gave us one more reason to play, one more reason to continue.

“We got there, we were perfect, we started the game with great intensity and managed to keep it going for most of the game.

“In fact, most of our mistakes and mistakes came from our enthusiasm for doing things rather than locking things in and not being specific – I’ll take it every day of the week.”

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Exeter started the game with an aggressiveness and ambition that was conspicuous by his absence in the narrow 21-20 victory over Sale at Sandy Park a week earlier.

But they were forced to work for it by an equally ambitious and abrasive team of Sale who refused to fold, despite the challenge of chasing the Sandy Park hosts.

“A good start was 100% important, but we were always going to start well,” continued Baxter.

“There are games and then there are games, and the two games before this one won’t have looked as big as this one would have been for the guys.

“There was no excuse not to be good today.”

Exeter Chiefs' Tom O'Flaherty gets pushed after taking part in Exeter Chiefs second try of the afternoon
Exeter Chiefs’ Tom O’Flaherty gets pushed after taking part in Exeter Chiefs second try of the afternoon

The bans on Skinner and Ewers proved a thorny issue in Devon this week, with Baxter criticizing the decision-making process behind them.

And he continued his protest today, insisting that things had to change after seeing Jonny Hill leave and not return after just five minutes following a high shot from Manu Tuilagi.

The England center was only given a yellow card, prompting Baxter to head to the sideline during the game for a discussion on the decision.

Baxter said: “If anything shows the inconsistency of what I was talking about this week regarding the whole head contact issue, we had two guys who got two four week bans after two incidents that didn’t did not even need EIS.

“Today we had a guy taken out of the game with an HIA in the opening minutes who can’t go the rest of the game and might not go next week and all it is is a yellow card.

“Is anyone going to say that everything can be wrapped up in one process? It is not possible, and yet it is what we are trying to do.

There is no way it can be done correctly. We have incorrect and inadequate laws that attempt to deal with a situation that needs to be addressed.

“None of us want to have the primary contact scenarios – of course we don’t – but we don’t handle them properly.”

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