THE TOMAHAWK WAVING visiting supporters saluted their players at the final whistle.
And the Exeter Chiefs gratefully accepted the applause.
The 9-6 defeat to Leinster was a rock solid performance nobody could help but be proud of, but they wanted more than that.
Even in their first game at Europe’s top table, the Chiefs have no doubt they belong.
“We’re disappointed not to win.” Coach Richard Baxter said, “I think when you perform well and the result doesn’t go your way, you’re always going to be disappointed.
“Are we pleased with the level of performance? Yeah, we are. We were good a times today, but we still made some mistakes that cost us a chance at what would have been a very important win.”
Baxter added: “We didn’t come here to try and do damage-limitation, we came to try and win the game. I think we showed that by the way we played. We’re pleased with our endeavour, but I think the players felt there was a win there for us if we just done a couple of things a bit better.”
Chiefs captain Tom Hayes, playing in Ireland for the first time since moving to Exeter initially couldn’t suppress the adrenaline flowing from an all-action display enough to tow the party line. “”Yeah it was good, alright!” He said with a grin as wide as his shoulders, before straightening his face to echo his coach’s sentiment:
“It was a huge occasion and that’s what we want to be part of. We showed today that we’re not afraid of being there we just want to go for it.
“We do feel a little bit disappointed in some stuff. You have to credit Leinster, we got into their 22 a couple of times and they turned us over three or four times to relieve the pressure. That’s probably part of why they’re Heineken Cup champions, but it’s still a little bit disappointing for us to let them off the hook.
“There are a few things we feel we left on the pitch a bit.” Hayes continued (he certainly talks more freely than his big brother), “but there’s an awful lot of positives – It’s four points to one out of this game, so that could be crucial later on in the pool – every point counts.”
Andrew Conway prepares to tackle a bloody Tom Johnson. Niall Carson/PA Wire/Press Association Images
Baxter would have expected no other attitude from his skipper, but one thing is clear: these men believe they can escape the Heineken Cup’s group of death despite having zero experience as a group at this level.
Clermont’s trashing of the Llanelli Scarlets will be a dent to more hopes than the Welsh, but if the Chiefs can nullify Leinster’s attack so efficiently, then there is no reason they won’t take a big scalp on their travels.
Despite Hayes’ upbringing, he insists his allegiance to Munster was not a factor in motivating him for yesterday’s game. The Chiefs are a province and a religion unto themselves.
“It wasn’t any sort of a Munster-Leinster thing or anything like that. It was all about the club for me. If we were playing against Toulouse and they had won the Heineken Cup three times in the last four years it would have been just as big.” Said Hayes before deciding that the opposition was actually inconsequential.
“I’ve been part of what the club have developed over the last few years and I’ve really enjoyed that and been privileged to be a part of it.
“No matter who we were playing, or how many Heineken Cups they’d won, it was going to be a massive thing for us. Playing for the Exeter Chiefs in the Heineken Cup is the biggest motivation.
Long may it continue, European competition is a far richer arena for the addition of Exeter, Hayes and the Tomahawk.