Maunder looking to ramp things up
By Mark Stevens
Jack Maunder says he and his Exeter Chiefs team-mates can ill afford to draw breath as the Gallagher Premiership enters into its final weeks.
With just one round of the regular season remaining, the Chiefs know victory over visiting Northampton Saints this Saturday at a packed out Sandy Park (4pm) will guarantee them top spot for a second successive season. After which, Rob Baxter’s side will then have home advantage in the end of season play-offs against as yet unknown opponents.
Just who the Chiefs will tackle will be decided come Saturday with Northampton, currently sat in fourth place, set to fight it out with fifth-placed Harlequins, who face Wasps at the Ricoh Arena.
For Maunder and the Chiefs, the sole focus for them is on ensuring they rediscover their winning formula having lost two of their last three top-flight fixtures.
The scrum-half was among 12 changes Director of Rugby Baxter made to his side for their last outing away to Saracens - and it was the Londoners who prevailed on the day, running out comfortable 38-7 victors at Allianz Park.
Keen to ensure his team were in fine fettle for this weekend and beyond, it was a tactic that Baxter had no issues in defending following the final whistle. However, a much-improved display will be sought this weekend against the Saints.
“If you’re holding breath or thinking too much, then you’re going to get caught out,” said Maunder in the aftermath of the Sarries clash. “We’ve got to move forward quickly and we know we have a big training week coming up ahead of the game against Northampton.
“It’s a big game for us and it’s a big game for them, so that’s something that we’ve got to look forward to. It’ll be good to get back to Sandy Park. We’ve got two huge games coming up there, the first against Northampton, then the second is the semi-final, where it should be absolutely rocking.
“The boys that have played there the last few years, they’ll tell you it’s the best atmosphere they’ve played in, so that’s exciting for all of us and it’s something to really get up for.”
Maunder knows the Saints will be keen to play the role of party-poopers come the weekend, particularly as they look to become the one and only side this season to complete a Premiership double over the Chiefs.
Chris Boyd’s side won 31-28 in the corresponding fixture at Franklin’s Gardens back in December and Maunder says he and his team-mates must be ready for another stiff examination from the East Midlanders.
“They are dangerous all over the pitch,” warned the 22-year-old. “They look to play in the wide channels, which will be a good test for our defence. That said, there will be challenges all around the pitch and we will need to stand up, put our game on them, and look to put in a sound performance.
“We’ve got to the stage of the season now where we need these big performances and we need to start ramping things up. The Northampton game gives us the best opportunity to try and do that.”