TOP BAR - Fixtures

Chiefs side to face Bath

Backs coach Ali Hepher is expecting a much-improved display from his Exeter Chiefs side as they continue the defence of their LV= Cup crown against arch rivals Bath Rugby tomorrow (4.30pm).

Last season's champions kicked-off their campaign a week ago by claiming a narrow 28-27 victory over Gloucester at Sandy Park, but it could easily have been different had visiting fly-half Aled Thomas not failed with a last minute penalty chance.

As It was, Thomas' long-range effort cannoned back off the posts and the Chiefs were able to toast a winning start against the Cherry & Whites.

This week, though, Hepher says the Chiefs have reflected on their display – particularly in the first half – and tried to address certain areas of concern.

"Points-wise, it was a good start and we got the win, but I think there was quite a bit with the performance that we can improve,” admitted Hepher. "We've tried to address that through this week – and it's important we do as Bath are in good form right now.

"They are going to look to come down here themselves and look to back up their own five-point win from last week. Right now we're both in good positions, but if you want to qualify you have to win your home games and then try and pick up some points on the road later in the season.

"Looking at the weekend, it should be a great game; it's a local derby; and we're all pretty excited about it.”

Certainly the Chiefs have plenty to be happy about currently, having notched up four wins in five games this season at Sandy Park, but Hepher says the team can ill afford to let their standards slip against their near neighbours.

"Our home form last year and even when we lost to Leicester at the start of the season wasn't great, but since then we've addressed certain things, including our mental approach and how we go about certain aspects,” added Hepher.

"In recent weeks we've gone out and performed in front of what have been fantastic crowds, and it looks like this weekend is heading towards a sell-out, which is great. We're on a good run, we've won a few on the trot, but we have to keep working on it.

"As I said, winning your home games is important as it'll put you in good shape for later in the competition. At the same time, Bath will know if they win this weekend, they are in a great position with another home game to coach, so it's all to play for.

"Playing and coaching in big games is what we are all about and it's important we look to build on our momentum of recent weeks and have something big to take into this next block of Premiership games.”

With Hepher's former club Northampton Saints next on the agenda after tomorrow's test, it's little surprise the Chiefs management team have taken the opportunity to utilise their squad to the full during the past few weeks of cup action.

"It's important we hit the Northampton game running,” continued Hepher. "Over the last few weeks we've rotated the squad a bit and boys have been able to have a bit of rest and the odd week off. Certainly we have tried to put the squad in the best position for next week and beyond.

"The guys are relatively fresh, we're almost injury free and we've got genuine competition for places, so hopefully that level of performance we want will come as a result of things we've done and then it will be the players in form that will get the shirt.”

Against Gloucester a number of Exeter's rising stars, as well as fringe first teamers, were given their chance to impress and Hepher says a number of them showed up well and having given the coaching staff plenty to ponder this past week.

"It's great to see these young players coming through,” said Hepher. "Some of them have not had as much opportunity to play as we'd have liked, but equally they have to perform when they do play to try and push themselves up the ladder so to speak.

"For us as coaches it was pleasing that some did step up and show what they can do, but we're also aware our performance last week was not as good as it has been in previous games. There are reasons for that, but we need to kick on and make sure the whole squad performs at their best for what is a tough block of games coming up.”

No doubt with one eye on next week's trip to the Saints, the Chiefs are to use this weekend's game as not only a chance to get some game time into a number of their front-line stars, but also help cement their place at the top of Pool 4 in this season's LV= Cup.

A fully-loaded Chiefs line-up is once again skippered by lock Dean Mumm, who made his first appearance of the season against Gloucester, whilst there is also a first start for new signing Byron McGuigan at full-back.

McGuigan is joined in the Exeter back division by Jack Nowell and Henry Slade, both of whom were released from England training earlier this week by head coach Stuart Lancaster.

15 Byron McGuigan
14 Jack Nowell
13 Henry Slade
12 Sam Hill
11 Matt Jess
10 Gareth Steenson
9 Will Chudley
1 Ben Moon
2 Jack Yeandle
3 Tomas Francis
4 Dean Mumm (capt)
5 Damian Welch
6 Dave Ewers
7 Don Armand
8 Thomas Waldrom

16 Luke Cowan-Dickie
17 Carl Rimmer
18 Moray Low
19 Ryan Caldwell
20 Ben White
21 Haydn Thomas
22 Ian Whitten
23 Adam Hughes

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