Chiefs side for Montpellier
By Mark Stevens
Rob Baxter insists his side will “fight for everything” ahead of tomorrow’s crunch European Champions Cup encounter with Montpellier at Sandy Park (3:15pm).
In what is effectively a ‘do-or-die’ encounter for both sides in a hugely competitive Pool 3, the English champions know victory is imperative if they are to stand any chance of advancing into the latter stages of the competition.
Back-to-back defeats against runaway pool leaders Leinster have seen the Chiefs slip to third in the standings, four points adrift of their French rivals, who themselves have put themselves back in the melting pot with successive wins over Glasgow Warriors last month.
That said, the Chiefs have already brewed the winning formula against the current Top 14 leaders, winning the corresponding fixture at the Altrad Stadium 27-24 back in October.
A similar outcome this weekend would not only allow the Chiefs to edge back in front of their rivals with one round to play, but it would give them the perfect response to last weekend’s Aviva Premiership defeat at Newcastle Falcons.
“There is still lots to fight for in terms of Europe and that is what we will do this weekend,” said Baxter. “We will fight for everything until it’s gone.
“We’ve had lots of emotional performances here before and that’s what we will need again on Saturday. We’ve kept it simple to the players this week, we’ve just told them to turn up in the right frame of mind, lay every bit of emotion they have out onto the field and what will be, will be.
“Montpellier, we know, will be coming here to win and looking to wrap up second place in the pool, so there is lots of motivation for them. But that’s how it should be. We’ve played before in big games where both sides are highly motivated, but we beat Clermont here when it was like that, we also beat the Ospreys when they had to win to go through, and we beat Cardiff here when everyone was tipping them as the side to beat in the pool.
“As I said, we know this weekend will be a great challenge for all of us, but that’s kind of what you expect at this level. If you work very hard to get into the top six of the Premiership, then you know you are going to be in a very good frontline competition the next season. That is how it has ended up for us and now we have to deal with it as best we can.”
With the Chiefs well aware that victory – hopefully with the try bonus – is essential, Baxter has told his players not to go for broke from the outset in their pursuit of maximum reward.
“Of course, it’s important to get a try bonus, but we’ve said to the players you don’t have to go out and force those five points,” added the Chiefs Director of Rugby “If you look at how we play, we’ve picked up lots of try bonus points over the last 12, 24 months, so there is no need for us to all of a sudden fling offloads or tap penalties in the first few minutes.
“By playing well and doing what we do well, I know we can create enough opportunities over the 80 minutes to get us there or thereabouts.
“Also, the truth is to beat a side of the calibre of Montpellier, you normally have to get up around the 20-odd point mark, so that means we will need to score points at the weekend.
“Not getting anything against Leinster in our home game has hurt us a little bit. Had we done so, we would have been in a position to be really fighting and be really aggressive in terms of the pool over these last two rounds. Our performance over in Dublin was good and we were close to winning that game. To get the losing bonus point, we will take that, but if we had got something more from the game here, we could have been a in great position going into this last fortnight.”
Having made ten changes in personnel ahead of last weekend’s loss at Newcastle, Baxter is buoyed by the return of a number of his frontline stars for tomorrow’s test.
Up front, Ben Moon, Luke Cowan-Dickie and Harry Williams form a new-look front-row; Jonny Hill is back at lock alongside Mitch Lees; while the back-row is boosted by the return of England international Don Armand.
In the back division, Henry Slade is recalled to the centre alongside Sam Hill, meaning Ian Whitten moves to the wing with James Short the man to miss out. The other change sees Lachie Turner, who missed last weekend’s game due to the birth of his son, return at full-back.
CHIEFS SIDE TO FACE MONTPELLIER
15 Lachie Turner
14 Ian Whitten
13 Henry Slade
12 Sam Hill
11 Olly Woodburn
10 Gareth Steenson (capt)
9 Nic White
1 Ben Moon
2 Luke Cowan-Dickie
3 Harry Williams
4 Mitch Lees
5 Jonny Hill
6 Dave Ewers
7 Don Armand
8 Sam Simmonds
16 Jack Yeandle
17 Alec Hepburn
18 Tomas Francis
19 Toby Salmon
20 Matt Kvesic
21 Will Chudley
22 Joe Simmonds
23 Phil Dollman