Hill aware of Exiles threat
By Mark Stevens
Jonny Hill says Exeter Chiefs must channel their frustrations of a week ago into a positive response when London Irish provide the opposition at Sandy Park tomorrow (3pm).
The Chiefs saw their 17-match unbeaten run in the Aviva Premiership come to a halt when Hill's former club Gloucester pinched a last-gasp victory in their seasonal opener at Kingsholm.
Jason Woodward's converted try with the last play of the match floored the reigning champions in dramatic fashion and left the Chiefs somewhat downbeat from a contest in which they gave so much.
“It was really frustrating coming back in on Monday," said Hill. "Watching it back it was even more painful, but that’s the nature of the beast at the moment.
“Gloucester are improving, and we’re trying to improve ourselves, the competition is so competitive, it’s unbelievable. That said, we’ve been focusing on ourselves this week, our own basics, and hopefully that will bring us through.”
Rob Baxter's side take on newly-promoted London Irish, who themselves made a strong return to the Premiership with a 39-29 win against Harlequins, and Hill is expecting a physical test.
“Huge respect to London Irish for coming back up and winning their first game," he added. "We’ve previewed them like any other team, so we’re going to give them the respect that they deserve.
“It’s going to be a huge, physical confrontation, so if we win that, then we should be okay. That said, they’ve got some very good back-rowers in their side and it's a key part to their team.”
Tomorrow's encounte will be almost four months since the Chiefs last played a league match at Sandy Park, but Hill is relishing playing in front of a home crowd once again.
He said: “Running out at Sandy Park, they’re a strange set of fans, but we love them to the core, and it’s going to be good to reunite with them and hopefully they can be that extra man for us.
“It’s going to be a great occasion for us, a lot of the fans haven’t seen us since Twickenham, so it will be nice to get that relationship back with the home fans and try and put last week’s wrongs right.
“We don’t want to really focus on records, we focus on each week as it comes. We’re big believers in day by day things rather than long-term stuff, so hopefully Saturday is the next stage of our journey.”
London Irish have made one change for tomorrow's trip, Italian international Luke McLean replaces Fergus Mulchrone at inside centre, the former Sale man ruled out with a hamstring injury.
McLean, who has played 89 times for the Azzurri, partners Canadian international Ciaran Hearn at the heart of Irish's backline as Nick Kennedy's men look to build on last weekend's impressive bonus point triumph over Harlequins.
Exiles' boss Kennedy is himself relishing the challenge of going toe to toe with the Chiefs in Devon, adding: “We're really looking forward to the trip to Exeter. They are a quality team with threats right across the field, so we'll have to be at our very best in every department. They are a team that we have a great deal of respect for and it doesn’t get any bigger than playing the Premiership champions at Sandy Park.”
London Irish: 15 Tommy Bell, 14 Alex Lewington, 13 Ciaran Hearn, 12 Luke McLean, 11 Topsy Ojo, 10 James Marshall, 9 Scott Steele, 1 Danny Hobbs-Awoyemi, 2 David Paice (c), 3 Petrus Du Plessis, 4 Franco van der Merwe, 5 Sebastian De Chaves, 6 Mike Coman, 7 Blair Cowan, 8 Ofisa Treviranus
Replacements: 16 Dave Porecki, 17 Gordon Reid, 18 Ben Franks, 19 Josh McNally, 20 Conor Gilsenan, 21 Brendan McKibbin, 22 Greig Tonks, 23 Aseli Tikoirotuma