Exeter director of rugby Rob Baxter was left bemoaning his side’s slow start to the campaign after Sunday’s 31-19 bonus-point victory over Ulster at least kept alive their slim hopes of progressing in the European Champions Cup.
The Chiefs leapfrogged Ulster and Bordeaux to move up to second place in Pool Five, but their final fixture is away at runaway leaders Clermont, where they will need to pick up a bonus-point win and hope a number of other results go their way.
Baxter said: “We are mathematically still in it but, as a good as we were today, we have to remember the opportunities we’ve lost in earlier games.
“How we lost to Bordeaux after we secured 70 per cent possession is hard to fathom, but we were off the pace earlier in the season and I hope we’ve learned our lessons.
“Last season we ruined Ospreys’ chances and today we have ruined another team’s, and if we had won the Bordeaux game we would be in a totally different position.”
Baxter saw Thomas Waldrom and Michele Campagnaro score two tries apiece for Exeter, with a penalty try and three Gareth Steenson conversions making up the points.
The explosive Charles Piutau touched down twice for Ulster; Sean Reidy scoring the other, with Paddy Jackson converting two, but a late yellow card for Jackson and award of the penalty try sealed their fate.
“We now have much more momentum to our game as we are running off the ball much harder and are well placed to concentrate on the Anglo-Welsh and Premiership competitions for the rest of the season,” Baxter added.
“You never know what might happen as we can go to Clermont and have a bit of fun and try to score four or five tries.”
Ulster boss Les Kiss was disappointed as the defeat without a bonus point effectively ended any hopes of the Irish province advancing.
“We didn’t look after our ball and gave away easy penalties,” he said. “There were a lot of good things from us but they worked us over in the early period of the second half.
“I’ve no complaints about the yellow card as they caught us out and put us under pressure and we didn’t handle it.
The feature of the game was a brilliant duel between wings Jack Nowell and Piutau, which thrilled the Sandy Park crowd.
“Charles is a special talent but we are not doing enough to open up the spaces to give him more opportunities,” Baxter said:
“Jack was exceptional today and hopefully he can take that momentum into the Six Nations and, if England do well, he can secure a Lions place.
“A moment of inspiration from Piutau won the game for them in Belfast and it was a tit-for-tat contest with Jack. If you had Jack on one wing and Piutau on the other, you’d have some side.”
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Exeter boss Baxter laments slow Champions Cup campaign
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