Chiefs side to face Glasgow
By Mark Stevens
Four from four in this season’s Heineken Champions Cup, Exeter Chiefs know they are within a point of securing their place in the quarter-finals for only the second time in the club’s history.
Rob Baxter’s side have been hugely impressive in their latest European escapades, winning in La Rochelle first up, before then defeating Glasgow Warriors at Sandy Park a week later.
Last month saw the Gallagher Premiership leaders win home and away against league rivals Sale Sharks, ensuring they head into the penultimate round of the pool stages sitting pretty with 19 out of a possible 20 points to date.
Never before have the Devonians accrued a better points tally at this stage of the competition, but Director of Rugby Baxter insists the job is far from done and has challenged his troops to continue performing.
Tomorrow, the Chiefs will run out against Glasgow Warriors at Scotstoun (3:15pm) looking to heed the words of their illustrious leader, who has also spelt out the significant threat of the Scotsmen on their own patch.
“Being top of our pool, it’s obviously where you want to be,” he said. “That said, we still have two tough fixtures to go. It probably works in our favour that we have the second of those at home [against La Rochelle], and we have experience of going to Glasgow before in big games.
“Last time we went there we probably didn’t do ourselves justice, nor did we get the result we wanted! Now, we have that challenge all over again and it’s up to us to do better than last time and keep things in our own hands.”
Although victorious against the Warriors on their past two meetings in Devon, the Chiefs have yet to register victory North of the Border in Europe, the most recent of those losses coming two years ago when Glasgow edged Baxter’s side out 28-21.
One man who featured for the Warriors that day was current Chief Stuart Hogg, who has settled well to life in the Westcountry following his summer move.
“Without doubt you can see Stuart has added to our game,” said Baxter. “It’s not just in attack, but his chat, his kicking game, his game understanding, he’s good under the high ball, he is making percentage gains all the time for us. I do think, however, that there is still more to come from him.
“Yes, we’ve removed a key attacking weapon from them with him joining us, but they are a very good side with some very good rugby players. I know Stuart is looking forward to going back there. He’ll be used to the pitch, used to the people, used to the conditions, and I’d like think he can make the different that we’ll need across the field.”
Hogg will certainly be the centre of attention for many, but every Chief will need to be on top of their game this weekend against a Warriors side who are fighting for their own existence within the latter stages of the competition.
“We are very aware there is still a big challenge ahead of us,” warned Baxter. “Looking at things, Glasgow have probably under-performed in their opinion in the Heineken Cup up until now. They are kind of in the last-chance saloon a little bit.
“We are very much aware of that because we have been in that position before. There have been plenty of times where we have played here before and done very well because of the situation we found ourselves in. As I said, we are expecting a very tough performance from Glasgow and that we will need to be very good if we want to get something from the game.”
With a quarter-final spot at stake for the Chiefs, it’s the perfect incentive for Baxter and his team to go out and deliver a top-notch display.
“In any cup competition, you wants to push for those home draws,” continued Baxter. “You do that by not just winning your pool, but by winning it how best you can. We still have the opportunity to do that – and if you look at the make-up of the other pools, you could easily see the quarter-finals made up of teams who have to win all of their games.”
With an eight-game winning streak under their belts, it’s little wonder that Baxter will want ‘more of the same’ from his players.
“You can’t run away from the fact that you have to live and breathe every moment to understand it,” said Baxter. “Often in sport everyone wants to drive the positives, which is great, but as a coaching group we’re more than happy to remind lads about mistakes of the past.
“It’s about experiencing those situations and learning from them. It’s also about reminding the guys that they need to turn up in every game to make things go their way. Last weekend [against London Irish] was a perfect example of that. We could easily have gone there, having beaten Saracens the week previous, and had a breather.
“Had we done that, we could easily have lost that game. We have a five minute period where we let our tempo drop and it nearly hurt us. However, the guys turned up, especially in that first half, and we got out dividends at the end of the half which ultimately won us the game.
“I thought we showed a great attitude and understanding to show what you need to win a tough game of Premiership rugby, now we need to do the same to compete in what will be a tough Heineken Cup game.”
Despite victory a week ago, Baxter has made changes to his winning formula. Up front, Dave Dennis has been ruled out through illness, so Sean Lonsdale partners Jannes Kirsten in the second-row. Behind them, Jacques Vermeulen and Matt Kvesic also start with Don Armand dropping to the bench and Sam Simmonds not being risked on the artificial surface.
In the back division, Joe Simmonds returns at fly-half and also takes on the captaincy duties in the absence of Dennis, while Ian Whitten is preferred to Sam Hill in the centre alongside Ollie Devoto.
CHIEFS SIDE TO FACE GLASGOW WARRIORS
15 Stuart Hogg
14 Jack Nowell
13 Ian Whitten
12 Ollie Devoto
11 Olly Woodburn
10 Joe Simmonds (capt)
9 Nic White
1 Alec Hepburn
2 Luke Cowan-Dickie
3 Enrique Pieretto
4 Jannes Kirsten
5 Sean Lonsdale
6 Dave Ewers
7 Jacques Vermeulen
8 Matt Kvesic
16 Elvis Taione
17 Ben Moon
18 Marcus Street
19 Will Witty
20 Don Armand
21 Jack Maunder
22 Gareth Steenson
23 Sam Hill