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Alex Coles of Northampton Saints
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Alex Coles of Northampton Saints
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Coles: Physicality and accuracy cost us in Exeter

Alex Coles was disappointed Northampton Saints could not back up their stunning performance against Harlequins after they slipped to a 35-12 defeat at Exeter Chiefs.

It proved to be a hugely frustrating evening at Sandy Park for Saints, who had travelled down to Devon with their confidence boosted by the 46-17 dismantling of Quins on New Year’s Day.

Unfortunately, they were unable to shake off the travel sickness that has accompanied them on the road so far this season, as the Chiefs opened up a 28-0 lead by the early stages of the second half.

Losing the battle at the breakdown in tricky conditions contributed to the men in Black, Green and Gold being left with too much to do after half-time, an area that had appeared to be rectified in their previous game, much to the annoyance of Coles.

He said: “Last weekend was that performance we’ve been talking about for a while, where it finally clicked, and the challenge was: can we back it up?

“We’ve been speaking about keeping that energy really high, and that accuracy, and to be honest I think that physicality we had last week maybe slipped down a bit today.

“Exeter probably topped us in that area, and we just didn’t play the conditions as well as them either.

“A little nod to the scrum, I thought the scrum was excellent today – to come down here and scrum like that against this team is really impressive and we let the front row down a bit in that we didn’t do more with some of the advantage they gave us.”

Alex Coles

Saints’ chance conversion rate also dipped in Exeter, as they could not capitalise on multiple entries into the hosts’ 22 by scoring points, meanwhile Chiefs were clinical in the ‘red zone’.

Despite a second-half improvement, it meant they could not match the home side’s tally of five tries, as Rob Baxter’s side leapfrogged above Saints in the Gallagher Premiership table.

Coles said: “We needed to pressure them more. We looked a little bit clunky in our shape.

“I thought we didn’t stress them enough – often we were quite ‘one out’ and against a team like that, where when you look up there are five or six big men in a row coming at you, you need to have something to challenge them a little bit.”

“It felt like we were just running into a brick wall at times today.”

The match was Saints’ last in the Gallagher Premiership for a few weeks, as they resume their Heineken Champions Cup campaign with a trip to Munster on Saturday, still looking for their first win in that competition this season.

The Irishmen came away from cinch Stadium at Franklin’s Gardens with a hard-fought 17-6 victory in December, but Coles insists Saints will not be shying away from the challenge ahead of them at Thomond Park.

“It’s not a daunting test, I would say it’s really exciting,” Coles added. “It’s one of the best places to go and play rugby in Europe, from what I’ve been told.

“The fans should be super excited for the trip down there and we’re buzzing. When you get hurt and you get wounded, like we were against Exeter, you often see a spike in the next game, and we need to make sure we bring that.”

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