Exeter Chiefs head coach Rob Baxter believes it is important to look at the “bigger picture” at the end of a run of five straight defeats for the Devon club.
The Chiefs have come up against some of the top sides in Europe during the past month, and have played some excellent rugby, yet have failed to record a victory.
The losing sequence started with an LV= Cup defeat at Bath, when Exeter rested most of their first-choice players at that time against a home side not far off full strength.
They then suffered back-to-back Premiership defeats at home to league leaders Saracens and away to third-place Bath, before narrowly going down twice to defending Heineken Cup champions Toulon.
The LV= Cup match aside, when they were well beaten, the Chiefs could quite easily be looking back on victories in each of their last four games, such has been the level of their performance, and Baxter is looking for them to carry that on into Saturday’s important Premiership game at home to Newcastle Falcons, who were playing in the Championship last season.
“It is important to look at the bigger picture,” said Baxter. “As a coach you have got to say ‘is it about the results, or is it about how we have been performing?
“If you get into the Heineken Cup, you can easily have patches where you get four or five games on the bounce where you lose, because you end up playing two very, very tough games at some stage.
“I am not overly worried by that (the run of results), but it would worry me if we don’t perform well against Newcastle because we should.
“We are performing at a high level against high level teams, and I would be disappointed and a little worried if we don’t follow that through against Newcastle.”
It would be very easy for the Chiefs to let their guard slip against perceived weaker opposition after such a tough run, which is why Baxter is keen for his players to maintain their level of performance, after the two titanic clashes with Toulon.
“The most important thing for me, and the biggest challenge for the players, is to bring the intensity of how we have had to play these last couple of weeks into the Premiership,” he said.
“That’s the battle, because we want to keep getting involved in these big games because we can feel we are getting better in them, and what we have to do is make sure that, whatever happens at the end of the Premiership season, we are in the top six, and we are lined up for whatever competition is in place.
“Whether that is the Heineken Cup or another top level competition, I know something will be there, and we want to be in the thick of it.
“That’s what the Heineken Cup gives you - it gives you a great intensity and you have got to take it forward into the next round of Premiership games.”
The sizeable strides Exeter have taken are best illustrated by looking at their two Heineken Cup defeats to Clermont Auvergne last season, when they went down 46-12 at home and 46-3 away.
Twelve months on, their combined margin of defeat against Toulon - who beat Clermont in the Heineken Cup final last May - was only 17 points.
“We have just got to keep working hard and keep confident in what we are doing, because we have got a lot right for the last four or five years,” he said. “The toughest thing sometimes is to start looking for answers that aren’t really there.
“You need to keep your eye on the bigger picture, and keep satisfied with your rate of progress, as long as it is the correct rate of progress, and I think we are making it.
“We have put in noticeably better performances against Toulon than we did against Clermont last season, even if the only way you judge it is looking at the scoreboard.
“That’s good and shows we are heading in the right direction and things are positive for us.
“Over the last year or so, we have come out of the Heineken Cup period and done well in the Premiership, and that’s what we have got to do again.”