Exeter Chiefs head coach Ali Hepher has underlined the importance of bonus points in the Heineken Champions Cup, after the one the Chiefs gained in their 39-28 Heineken Champions Cup loss to the Vodacom Bulls in Pretoria last weekend sealed their progress to the knockout stages.
The Gallagher Premiership side’s four tries enabled them to reach the Round of 16 with a game to spare, with Jack Innard notching that crucial fourth score just a minute from the end, even though they were down to 14 men following Henry Slade’s 54th minute red card.
“The bonus point is very important, because any points in this competition are huge, particularly when there are only 20 up for grabs,” Hepher said.
The bonus point was one of a number of positive aspects that Hepher was able to take away from the Chiefs’ trip to South Africa.
“There are lots,” he commented. “A bonus point [for scoring for tries] in Europe is probably a par score, so that is obviously pleasing and how we came back for that.
“The guys will be able to take confidence from the adjustment to altitude. We were our own downfall at times, so we can go toe-to-toe with these quality sides, especially in South Africa. We can go toe-to-toe with all teams in Europe.
😍 𝐀 𝐓𝐡𝐢𝐧𝐠 𝐨𝐟 𝐁𝐞𝐚𝐮𝐭𝐲 😍
Josh Hodge grabs his first-ever European try for @ExeterChiefs in the @ChampionsCup with this sizzling effort against the @BlueBullsRugby #BULvEXE pic.twitter.com/36TiWtPzvv
— Exeter Chiefs (@ExeterChiefs) January 16, 2023
“We scored two very good tries in the first half, but those scores either side of half-time were huge. They were big moments in the grand scheme of things, but we fought our way back and we were rightly rewarded at the end.”
However, Hepher stressed that there are still parts of the game that Exeter “need to tidy up on”.
“What we need to address are the mistakes we are making,” he explained. “Again, we gave away too many penalties because we were that little bit slow on the inside clear and that allowed them to get over the ball too many times.
“Also, our energy and enthusiasm to get there was lacking at times. At the moment, we’re giving teams an extra five or six penalties that we shouldn’t be doing, so there are lessons to learn around that area.”
Exeter, who lie fourth in Pool A, wrap up their pool games with a home match against Castres Olympique on Saturday.