Conor O’Shea insists his Harlequins side are far from being thrown out of the Premiership title race, but admits he needs to see more from his defending champions after being humbled for the second weekend in a row.
Quins’ perfect start to their maiden title defence ended at the hands of Saracens last month and after winning their first four games O’Shea’s troops have now lost two on the spin as Exeter Chiefs claimed a 42-28 victory on Saturday.
Tries from Ugo Monye, Nick Evans and Karl Dickson had Quins in contention before Jason Shoemark’s quick-fire double swung the match in Exeter’s favour.
And O’Shea was in no mood for excuses after suffering another setback in the quest to keep their hands on the Premiership title.
“We were rubbish," he said.
"We were very poor. All the credit goes to Exeter for the way they played - we should probably have been beaten by a lot more.
“It's not terminal, far from it, we've got 20 points after six games, but we weren’t good enough.
“We got beaten up at the contact area - we lost all the collisions from minute one and it was a miracle we were in the game for as long as we were.
“We will learn a massive lesson for what our desire has to be if we're going to be up there where we want to be.
“This will be taken on the chin and there will be a reaction and the reaction has to start next week.”
Evans cancelled out a Gareth Steenson penalty with one of his own before Quins found themselves trailing 10-3 as prop Brett Sturgess went over in the corner for the hosts.
Kiwi fly-half Evans was doing all of Quins’ early running and after kicking another three-pointer he wrestled back the momentum in the battle of the fly-halves, charging down Steenson’s clearance kick before picking up himself and dotting down.
They were then indebted to full-back Mike Brown whose tap-tackle was the only thing that prevented England team-mate Tom Johnson scoring.
And Quins headed into the break 18-16 to the good as Evans converted Ugo Monye’s try.
However Exeter wrestled the lead back early in the second-half when back-rower Ben White crossed for his second try in as many weeks, Steenson converting.
Rory Clegg replaced Evans shortly afterwards and he wasted a golden chance to reduce the deficit on 54 minutes – firing a penalty attempt wide.
However he couldn't miss with his next attempt – a conversion from in front of the posts – after he had intercepted Matt Jess' pass and scrum-half Dickson went over.
But the match swung back in Exeter's favour when Dolman made the crucial break before offloading to Shoemark who crossed, Steenson missing the conversion to leave the score at 28-25.
And the Kiwi centre added a second minutes later. Steenson pounced on a Quins error to release Shoemark who gave his fly-half the easiest of conversions.
A penalty from Clegg reduced the deficit but a converted Naqelevuki score settled it late on, leaving Exeter director of rugby Rob Baxter grinning from ear to ear.
"It was a fantastic game of rugby and it's easy to say they when you're on the winning end of it but it would still have been a great game whichever way the last ten-15 minutes had gone,” Baxter said.
"I think you had two sides trying to play rugby, and when you try to play rugby tries get scored and you also make mistakes and make a few errors. Some of our errors really hurt us and it gave the game a see-saw momentum.”
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