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Rob Baxter is still focused on five-point plan in Heineken Cup

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: December 09, 2013

By Mike Baker

Exeter Chiefs wing Jack Nowell slips the tackle of Toulon's former England international Jonny Wilkinson during the Heineken Cup encounter at Sandy Park  Picture: Dan Mullan/Pinnacle

Exeter Chiefs wing Jack Nowell slips the tackle of Toulon's former England international Jonny Wilkinson during the Heineken Cup encounter at Sandy Park Picture: Dan Mullan/Pinnacle

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Exeter Chiefs head coach Rob Baxter admits his side will have to pull off something memorable in Toulon if they are to give themselves a meaningful shot at the Heineken Cup quarter-finals.

Baxter had set a target of five points from back-to-back pool games against the reigning European champions and, following their 14-9 defeat at Sandy Park last Saturday, that means only a win in the south of France this weekend will suffice.

Chiefs slipped to third in Pool Two, having led going into this latest round of matches and, following Cardiff Blues' 29-20 defeat of Glasgow last Friday night, are now playing catch-up.

For Baxter, the Toulon defeat merely changed the venue at which his side require their four-point victory, although, given that the venue is Stade Mayol, it is much less simple than that.

Baxter said: "You're always disappointed when you lose, and I am disappointed for the players because they put so much into the game.

"You feel you deserve more than a losing bonus point but truth is we're not in any different position now than we were before the game. We had to win one of two, and we still have to win one of two.

"I think it was probably crucial that we got at least five points from the two games [against Toulon]. Getting a losing bonus point here means that's still within our grasp, but it's tougher now because we have to go away and win.

"The pool's still alive for us, all we have to do now is dust ourselves down and go again."

To the wider rugby world, it might seem like pure folly to suggest that Baxter and his boys might return from France with anything other than bruised egos and shattered dreams. But those who saw Chiefs run Toulon closer than those nay-sayers would have expected will not share the pessimism.

Two penalties from Gareth Steenson and one for Henry Slade, who replaced the injured fly-half after 20 minutes, meant Chiefs led 9-8 from just before the end of a pulsating first half to midway through a tense second.

With Toulon captain Jonny Wilkinson having missed three chances to pull his side back from the tee, he handed kicking duties to former Australia international Matt Giteau, who finally shifted the balance back in their favour.

A late Wilkinson drop-goal atoned somewhat for his earlier efforts, but also spoke of how well Chiefs had kept the visitors from their line, under intense pressure.

Baxter said: "We're pleased with massive parts of our game. Defensively at times we were fantastic, we created a couple of gilt-edged opportunities which you have to take if you want to beat Toulon.

"Probably the thing we'll look at most is the second half and how to break out of the cycle of being under continual territorial pressure."

He added: "It's a fantastic game to look back on and get that balance in getting some of our decision-making right, but overall I was very pleased with what I saw. You're going to make mistakes, there's going to be the odd moment when you face a team of the calibre of Toulon.

"I think overall we were in the fight for the full 80 minutes, and were probably in the lead for as long as Toulon were. But in that second half we did struggle to break the stranglehold on us."

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