Chiefs side to face Quins
By Mark Stevens
Exeter Chiefs skills coach Ricky Pellow has challenged his side to back-up last week’s win over Bath with another big display against Harlequins in tomorrow’s Premiership Rugby Cup clash at Sandy Park (1pm).
After two rounds of battle, Pellow’s defending champions sit top of Pool One – albeit on points difference from Newcastle Falcons – and remain on course in their quest to try and become the first club to secure back-to-back triumphs in the competition.
Last Saturday’s 25-18 win over Bath was the Devon club’s first win in a month, but has given the perfect springboard to take into tomorrow’s game against the Londoners, who themselves slipped to a narrow 23-21 defeat at home to the Falcons.
A dominant first half display paved the way for Exeter’s return to winning ways, but they were shaken late on as Bath hit back with a powerful last quarter that ensured they headed home with at least a losing bonus point.
Post-match, Pellow admitted he was encouraged by what he saw from his players for the first hour of the game, but it was the last 20 minutes where the Chiefs were stretched and the coach says his side can ill afford to allow a repeat performance tomorrow.
“It was an outstanding performance from us in the first half in terms of playing into the wind and how we controlled the game,” said Pellow. "The effort and the fight we showed in that first 40 was exactly where we wanted it to be.
“We took ourselves into a really strong position at half-time, and we talked a lot at the interval about what we needed to do in the second half and not think we were going to win the game just because of the wind behind us.
"In certain aspects of the second half we took our foot off the gas and Bath came back into the match and got their running game going. We struggled a little bit defensively around a few areas, but from an overall perspective, it was a great reaction from the previous week and we were happy to take the win."
With the Chiefs poised to return to Gallagher Premiership action at Bristol Bears next week, the club have used the Cup period to get much-needed game time into a host of first-team players, ensuring Director of Rugby Rob Baxter will have rich pickings in terms of selection ahead of their trip to Ashton Gate.
“This period has allowed us to rest a few of those frontline guys over the last few weeks,” explained Pellow. “But it’s also allowed us to get others guys within the squad up and running and get some big game minutes under their belt, as well as blood some of those senior academy guys into the squad and experience what it’s like playing with the first team.
“We’ve seen in the past how players who have performed well during these Cup weeks have used it to propel themselves into a Premiership squad the following week – and it’s been the same message to the group over these last few weeks. We’ve told guys that if they play well in these games, they are giving themselves a great shot of being involved when we go back into that next Premiership block.”
Although minus eight of their squad who are currently away on Test duties with their respective nations this Autumn, the Chiefs will be boosted by the sight of both Mitch Lees and Nic White returning to full training this week.
“Both Mitch and Whitey are back in full training, so it’s great to have them back in and around the squad again,” added Pellow. “I’m sure both will feature over these next few weeks and that will be a boost in itself as it’s been a while since we saw either of them in an Exeter Chiefs shirt.”
Indeed, Chiefs fans will get the chance to see Lees in action immediately as he is one of a number of changes Exeter have made to their side for tomorrow’s game. In the pack, young props Billy Keast and Marcus Street come in for Moray Low and Greg Holmes, while Lees comes into the second-row for Sean Lonsdale.
The back division sees Stu Townsend come in at scrum-half to skipper the side in place of Jack Maunder who drops to the bench. Outside of Townsend, there are also starts for both Sam Hill and Alex Cuthbert, who take over from Ollie Devoto and James Short respectively.
Ahead of kick-off tomorrow, the club will be staging a special on-field Remembrance Service. Supporters are kindly asked to take their place within the stadium by 12:45pm to ensure there is no disruption during this time.
CHIEFS SIDE TO FACE HARLEQUINS
15 Joe Simmonds
14 Tom O’Flaherty
13 Tom Hendrickson
12 Sam Hill
11 Alex Cuthbert
10 Harvey Skinner
9 Stu Townsend (capt)
1 Billy Keast
2 Jack Innard
3 Marcus Street
4 Mitch Lees
5 Wilhelm Van Der Sluys
6 Josh Caulfield
7 James Freeman
8 Tom Lawday
16 Elvis Taione
17 James Kenny
18 Alfie Petch
19 Richard Capstick
20 Dave Dennis
21 Jack Maunder
22 Max Bodilly
23 James Short