Final run-in excites Whitehead
By Mark Stevens
Hooker Chris Whitehead believes having sampled the delights of the Heineken Cup this season, Exeter Chiefs are desperate to make sure they are lining up alongside Europe's elite clubs again next season.
With just three league games remaining for the Devon outfit, the race to be amongst the top six in this season's Aviva Premiership is hotting up nicely.
The Chiefs - alongside Gloucester, Bath and London Wasps - occupy the four next-best berths outside of the play-off zone and Whitehead says the challenge over the final weeks of another highly competitive campaign is to ensure nothing is left behind in the pursuit of vital points.
Although without a game this weekend following their exit from Europe, Rob Baxter's in-form side will return to top flight action a week on Saturday when they welcome London Irish to Sandy Park (3pm).
Already it's a fixture Whitehead and his team-mates are preparing hard for following a notable 24-18 win away to Worcester Warriors last time out.
"We often say we don't tend to look too far ahead of ourselves, but we've got three games left and we have to push the dream of being in that top six," said the 26-year-old forward. "We want to be playing in the Heineken Cup - and nobody at the club is shying away from that fact.
"We have three enormous games remaining in the season and the teams close to us have some tough fixtures still to play, but it shouldn't be about that. At the Chiefs we tend to make it more about us and what we do, we don't want to be relying on others to push us up the table. We just want to concentrate on ourselves and our performances and ensure we are there or thereabouts come the end of the season."
Certainly the Chiefs have been in good form of late, winning three of their last four Premiership fixtures. The sole defeat was at home to Leicester Tigers, who claimed a narrow 12-9 victory thanks to a late Toby Flood penalty.
And it was the club's latest win - another last-gasp success of their own at Worcester - which has given the Derby-born player renewed confidence heading into the final run-in.
"Whenever you go to Worcester you never tend to win convincingly," he said. "They are a good outfit and certainly a different animal at home. Very few teams go there and win, so it was a fantastic effort from us to get the result we did. We said before the game we would need to put in an 80-minute performance and in end it was.
"What is pleasing is that we worked very hard, we've come away with the win and it keeps our dreams alive."
Whitehead believes more of the same will be needed in Exeter's remaining encounters with Irish, London Wasps and Gloucester.