Mitchell aims to build
By Mark Stevens
A year into life at Sandy Park, Welshman Craig Mitchell is looking to build on an impressive debut season in Devon and help Exeter Chiefs in their quest to be among the leading lights in the Aviva Premiership this term.
Last season the Chiefs came within a whisker of booking themselves a spot in the end-of-season play-offs, narrowly missing out on fourth spot to Northampton Saints. However, Exeter's eventual fifth place finish was a still a best-ever outcome for the club and underlined the great strides made by Rob Baxter's side in recent years.
Now, as the Chiefs prepare to kick-off their 2012/13 campaign against Sale Sharks this weekend, Welsh international Mitchell is confident the Westcountry outfit can kick on further in a season which will see them not only tackle the elite of the English game, but also of Europe where they have been grouped alongside Leinster, Clermont Auvergne and Scarlets in the Heineken Cup.
"We're looking forward to the season ahead, especially after the warm-up games which have gone reasonably well," said the 26-year-old prop. "We're in good shape and very much looking forward to a good encounter with Sale at the weekend."
In four previous Premiership meetings against the Sharks, the Chiefs have triumphed on each occasion, including a last-gasp 30-23 win at Edgeley Park last November and a comprehensive 37-12 success on home soil in March.
Mitchell knows, however, that the Sharks will be gunning for revenge in this seasonal opener and is expecting the Manchester-based club to pose a real threat.
"They are a good side," he added. "We played them twice last year and they were tough to beat. Looking back I think the turning point in our season came in the away game at Sale, so they will be quite disappointed with the two results and they'll come down here looking to put in a performance. We are aware of that, so we need to attack the game, start off well and push on for the rest of the season."
In an impressive debut season following his move from the Ospreys, Mitchell featured prominently for the Chiefs for much of the campaign having spent the early weeks of the season with Wales at the Rugby World Cup in New Zealand.
"I really enjoyed last season and I feel very settled at the club," said Mitchell. "The boys have been great, but right throughout the club whether it be the ladies in the ticket office through to the coaches and the players, they've all made me feel very welcome from day one.
"Coming here has definitely improved my game and I'm playing a lot more rugby than before. Certainly I've got a few more aches and pains than before, but that's all part of it and all of us are looking to push on again this season."
With the Chiefs recording a top five placing last season, Mitchell knows there will be a greater expectancy on the Chiefs this year to continue to produce results week in, week out.
"Expectations are what you make of them," said the Neath-born forward. "Within the club we know how good we are and we know the hard work that goes in throughout the season. We've got a few aims for the new season, one of which is to be in that top half of the table again, so we'll keep working hard as a group and see where it takes us."
Helping to back the Chiefs will be the club's tribe of supporters, who Mitchell says make themselves heard wherever Exeter take to the field.
"They are like a 16th man for us, they push us on when we are getting tired," he continued. "They are great and we had a cracking turnout here against the Pirates and against Connacht, so hopefully they'll be here in numbers again on Saturday."