Whitehead's set to go

Pictures: Exeter Rugby Club/Pinnacle Photo Agency

By Mark Stevens

Chris Whitehead says the Exeter Chiefs are relishing attacking the new season which gets underway this Saturday when Sale Sharks are the visitors to Sandy Park in the Aviva Premiership (3pm).

The 26-year-old hooker was part of a victorious Chiefs side that wrapped up their pre-season programme with a 15-6 victory against Glasgow Warriors in Ayr last Friday.

Tries from Whitehead and James Hanks, plus five points from the boot of fly-half Gareth Steenson, ensured Rob Baxter's side were given the perfect confidence booster ahead of the new campaign.

"It was a fantastic way to finish off pre-season," said Whitehead. "It was a good test for us and just what we needed running into what is going to be a big game against Sale this week. We knew Glasgow were going to be a decent test for us, so to come up here and get a result like this was a real positive outcome for us."

In a contest which the Chiefs bossed for large periods, it was not until the final quarter that the visitors finally turned their pressure into significant points. In difficult conditions at Millbrae, Whitehead said it was important that Exeter stuck to their guns and did not get too distracted.

"I think the key thing was our attitude," he added. "From minute one we were on our game. Going to Ayr was a bit different to say normal Premiership conditions, but sometimes it’s good to go back down to your roots. It’s like Rob said before the game, you have to keep it real sometimes and basically remember its 15 men against 15 men and who wants it the most out there.

"I thought to a man every one of our guys stepped up to the mark and produced a decent result in what was a tough game for us. What we'll do now is use all of this as a good starting point for our preparations for the Sale game."

Indeed, no sooner had the Chiefs touched back down in Devon than Whitehead and his team-mates were already engaging in their pre-match prep ahead of Saturday’s visit of the Sharks, who have bolstered their ranks with star signings such as Danny Cipriani and Richie Gray.

"It is going to be a big year for the club, especially with us being in the Heineken Cup," admitted the Derby-born forward. "However, it is one we are all relishing and can't wait to get stuck into. Personally, it’s great that pre-season is now over and we can get into the action properly. I know you have to do a lot of hard work in pre-season, which we've done, but you don't genuinely get your match fitness until you start playing games regularly.

"Therefore it has been great that we've had these three warm-up games and the boys have all been given decent game time. I know everybody is chomping at the bit to be involved and that everybody is sticking their hand and saying they want the shirt as much as the next guy. For all of us it’s a fantastic opportunity, but we know the Premiership is a tough environment and you have to be on your game every week."

Like the Sharks, Exeter have also bolstered their numbers during the close season with eight new faces having added to the Sandy Park playing ranks by Baxter. Whitehead - now into his third season with the club - has been impressed by those who have joined and is predicting bright things for the upcoming season.

"Rob is a great judge of character," said Whitehead. "We don't really have any superstars at the club, but we have a lot of players who will work very hard for one another. That is what we are built on and what has served us so well for the past couple of years. It’s now up to us to show that again this season because sides now know all about Exeter and what threats we carry."

Certainly the Chiefs demonstrated last term what a force they can be in the top flight, finishing the season in a best-ever placing of fifth spot. And Whitehead says the club will be looking to demonstrate a similar attitude when they kick-off again this weekend.

"We don't really set ourselves massive targets," he said. "Instead we just look to attack every game with a massive, positive attitude and see what it brings. So far it has served us pretty well and hopefully it will serve us well again this season."

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