Rob Baxter called Exeter Chiefs’ 34-5 defeat to Wasps Rugby a ‘slap in the face’ to his side speaking after the game on Saturday.
In a reversal of the result in last season’s Gallagher Premiership final back in October, Wasps’ strongest available side – albeit missing the likes of injured All Black centre Malakai Fekitoa – outfought and out muscled Exeter at the Ricoh Arena to deservedly walk away with the victory.
Having secured attacking bonus points from all four of their first four Premiership games of the 2020/21 season, conceding just three tries in the process, Chiefs shipped five against Wasps having left internationals: Luke Cowan-Dickie, Harry Williams, Jonny Gray, Jonny Hill, Sam Skinner and Henry Slade at home on their mandatory rest, while Stuart Hogg, Jack Nowell and Jannes Kirsten missed the game through injury.
After a barnstorming start to a relentless season, Exeter director of rugby Baxter looks to be resting his big guns to be able to go full tilt in the final pool games of the Heineken Champions Cup later this month, with the defending champions on the brink of being knocked out after having to forfeit their game with Toulouse due to a Covid breakout. That leaves Chiefs with no margin for error if they are to make the quarter-finals.
Baxter said “As far as we are concerned the Champions Cup is there to go for.
“The rest period we have put in place and the rotation we have used is kind of forced upon you. “You are not given much choice when you rest your EPS [England internationals] players. We choose to play them through the Heineken Cup games, but with the second game being cancelled we didn’t get either with some players not getting the rest or playing for us.
“We have chosen to rest our other internationals as well to give them some time away, not because we had to but because it is the right thing to do.
“These guys have been going quite a long time since the finals and it is important we get some rest and rotation.
Baxter continued: “We will take this slap in the face today and take it for the right reasons because a team outperformed us and beat us. I have no problems with that, we have just got to get back to work on Monday and try and beat Bristol next weekend who are probably smacking their lips together.
“We have got some nice challenges ahead.
“We didn’t play well enough. There is a reality in rugby that it is a pretty honest sport and you tend to win games you deserve to win and you tend to lose games you deserve to lose.
James Gaskell and Simon McIntyre both scored braces for Wasps while Lima Sopoaga scored the pick of the scores after an impressive outside break from Josh Bassett.
Flanker Richard Capstick scored an outstanding try for Chiefs just after the interval, breaking a weak tackle from Welsh international Will Rowlands before goose-stepping his way beyond former All Black Sopoaga to score in the corner.
After the match Wasps head coach Lee Blackett refused to let his side’s victory be diluted by the fact Exeter fielded a weakened side.
He said: “We know they were missing a few key guys for them up front but still this Exeter team went to Harlequins and put 30 points on them at the start of the season. They put 40 points on at home to Bath. This was a good Exeter team no matter what side they put out but we felt selection wise we have not often gone with (James) Gaskell at six but we went with as big a pack as we possibly could and we wanted to take them on there.”
Despite the defeat Chiefs remain top of the Premiership courtesy of a superior points difference over Bristol who come to Sandy Park on Saturday.
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Wasps: 15 Lima Sopoaga, 14 Paolo Odogwu, 13 Juan de Jongh, 12 Michael Le Bourgeois, 11 Josh Bassett, 10 Jacob Umaga, 9 Dan Robson; 1 Tom West, 2 Tom Cruse, 3 Kieran Brookes, 4 Joe Launchbury (c), 5 Will Rowlands, 6 James Gaskell, 7 Jack Willis, 8 Tom Willis
Replacements: 16 Tommy Taylor, 17 Simon McIntyre, 18 Jeff Toomaga-Allen, 19 Ben Morris, 20 Thomas Young, 21 Will Porter, 22 Charlie Atkinson, 23 Jimmy Gopperth
Exeter Chiefs: 15 Tom O’Flaherty, 14 Olly Woodburn, 13 Tom Hendrickson, 12 Ollie Devoto, 11 Ian Whitten, 10 Joe Simmonds MBE, 9 Sam Hidalgo-Clyne; 1 Alec Hepburn, 2 Jack Yeandle (c), 3 Marcus Street, 4 Will Witty, 5 Don Armand, 6 Dave Ewers, 7 Richard Capstick, 8 Sam Simmonds
Replacements: 16 Jack Innard, 17 James Kenny, 18 Tomas Francis, 19 Tom Price, 20 Rus Tuima, 21 Jack Maunder, 22 Harvey Skinner, 23 Josh Hodge
Referee: Ian Tempest.
Assistant Referees: Hamish Smales & John Meredith
TMO: David Grashoff.
Citing Officer: Chris Sharp.
Attendance: Behind Closed Doors