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'The whole game, the whole situation, could have flipped then'

By PA
Exeter Chiefs players in a huddle during a break in play during the Heineken Champions Cup Round of 16 1st leg match at Sandy Park, Exeter. (Photo by Adam Davy/PA Images via Getty Images)

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Exeter rugby director Rob Baxter wants his players to “go for it” in Limerick next weekend after they claimed a first-leg advantage in their Heineken Champions Cup round-of-16 clash against Munster.

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The 2020 European champions triumphed 13-8 at Sandy Park, edging out their opponents despite losing two players to the sin-bin – wing Olly Woodburn and replacement prop Patrick Schickerling – in rapid succession midway through the second half.

“We created a lot of opportunities that we didn’t take, but at the same time we probably put together some fantastic play,” Baxter said.

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“That 10 minutes when we were down to 13 men was probably one of our best 10 minutes of the season.

“The whole game, the whole situation, could have flipped then. We were under some pressure.

“For us to deal with that 10 minutes like we did, I think it showed a great deal of character and something that could really drive our season from here on in.

“That was a very good performance. All the hard work and the processes were there.

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“If you perform like that, nine times out of 10, you win the game, and we’ve won the game. I am actually pretty comfortable with where we are.

“We have just got to go for it next week and be as good as we were today.”

The Chiefs looked on their way to a sizeable victory after first-half tries from full-back Stuart Hogg and flanker Jacques Vermeulen put them 10 points clear.

But injury-hit Munster rallied after Exeter were reduced to 13 men, with wing Shane Daly touching down, while fly-half Ben Healy kicked a penalty, but it was Hogg’s drop-goal from 45 metres out that could ultimately make a significant difference.

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Exeter, looking to win the European Cup for a second time in three seasons, will feel they should have put the game away before indiscipline hit them.

But Munster, twice European champions, displayed trademark grit and resilience to set up an intriguing second leg at Thomond Park in seven days’ time.

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Munster head coach Johann Van Graan said: “We stayed in the fight. The guys stood up and were counted.

“A two-leg knockout is fascinating. You can’t win it in the first leg, but you can certainly lose it, and we feel we are still in it for next week at home.

“There were a lot of small margins in the game, and we need to be accurate for 80 minutes. We see Exeter as the very best in the opposition 22, and we knew what was coming today.”

Munster’s injury troubles saw skipper Peter O’Mahony and fly-half Joey Carbery sidelined, with Simon Zebo, Tadhg Beirne and Gavin Coombes also absent, testing resources for their trip to Devon.

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