Chiefs side to face Sale
By Mark Stevens
Ali Hepher insists Exeter Chiefs have been happy to adopt a ‘back to basics’ approach this week despite a perfect start to the new Gallagher Premiership season.
The Chiefs kicked off their campaign with a real statement of intent on the opening day, sinking visiting Leicester Tigers 40-6 at Sandy Park. They then followed that up last weekend with an equally impressive victory, this time away to Wasps at the Ricoh Arena where they won 41-32.
The two bonus point victories have put Devon’s finest top of the pile on points difference, ahead of reigning champions Saracens, who have also accrued a ‘perfect ten’ from their opening two games of the new season.
Tomorrow, the Chiefs will be looking to maintain their impressive start when they play host to Sale Sharks, who having lost their opening game heavily at Harlequins, returned to winning ways on Sunday with a 21-15 win over Worcester Warriors.
Head coach Hepher knows the Sharks pack a nasty bite if given the opportunity to shine and he has issued a timely warning to his players that they can ill afford to switch off in any way against Steve Diamond’s side.
“Every time they come here they are physical, they like to attack the game, and they are a side who can score tries,” said Hepher. “We know from past experience they are a tough side, so we have to make sure we are in the right place from minute one to deal with them.
“If we are off our game in any shape or form, they have guys in their team who can take advantage of that. They have big, strong ball-carriers, they’ve got a good set-piece and they have dangerous backs, so it’s important we are fully focused on the job in hand.”
The Chiefs have shown so far this season that they are in fine fettle and that there is no immediate hangover in the wake of losing last May’s Premiership Final at Twickenham to Saracens.
However, Hepher and the Chiefs coaching team have spelt out that standards within the Exeter ranks have to remain high if they are to remain amongst the division’s leading lights.
“We’re pleased with how things have gone so far,” added Hepher. “You never know coming into a new season quite where you are at, but the pleasing thing is the guys appear mentally ready and up for the fight, which is great to see. Not everything has been perfect in either game, so there is plenty to work on, but I know we’ll get better week on week and that’s a pleasing position to be in.
“Training this week has gone well again and we look well prepared. We’ve gone a little bit back to basics this week in certain areas - and we’ve done a few bits on getting some of our core skills right. If we do that, which we appear to have done, we’ll go well at the weekend.”
With the Exeter Braves also impressing in the opening weeks, securing victories over Saracens (away) and Bath (home), Hepher says selection for places has been tough for the Chiefs coaches this past week.
“We’re starting to see more and more guys back, which is good news for us,” continued Hepher. “We’ve also had two very good performances from the Braves in which a number of players have really pushed their case for selection. At the same time, we’ve had those players who have been featuring also putting in strong performances, so it’s given us a headache, but a good one at that.
“It’s also meant we can be a bit selective in terms of the sides we put out. We got a big block of eight games in this first part, so it’s important we manage the squad correctly during that time. We want to make sure we are peaking at the right time and not dying off come the end of that block.”
Among those to have returned to duty in the past week is England and British Lions winger Jack Nowell, who marked his first start since last May by scoring a try in Sunday’s Braves win over Bath.
Tomorrow, he is one of seven changes the Chiefs have made to their winning formula from that which took to the field against Wasps last time out. He comes in on the right wing in place of Ian Whitten, while Joe Simmonds and Jack Maunder both get their first starts of the season at half-back. Up front, there is a new-look front-row made up of Ben Moon, Luke Cowan-Dickie and Harry Williams, while Jonny Hill is also added with Sam Skinner sidelined with an ankle injury.
With Jack Yeandle and Gareth Steenson named among the replacements - alongside Academy youngster Sam Maunder, who gets his first-ever first-team call-up - Don Armand skippers the side from the back-row.
EXETER CHIEFS SIDE TO FACE SALE SHARKS
15 Phil Dollman
14 Jack Nowell
13 Henry Slade
12 Ollie Devoto
11 Santiago Cordero
10 Joe Simmonds
9 Jack Maunder
1 Ben Moon
2 Luke Cowan-Dickie
3 Harry Williams
4 Ollie Atkins
5 Jonny Hill
6 Don Armand (capt)
7 Matt Kvesic
8 Sam Simmonds
16 Jack Yeandle
17 Alec Hepburn
18 Tomas Francis
19 Toby Salmon
20 Sean Lonsdale
21 Sam Maunder
22 Gareth Steenson
23 Alex Cuthbert