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Chiefs side to face Bath


Rob Baxter says he wants to see a "back to basics" approach from his team as they look to tackle rivals Bath Rugby in tomorrow’s Aviva Premiership clash at a sold-out Recreation Ground (2pm).

Having seen their eight-game winning streak brought to a halt at Sale Sharks a week ago, Baxter is hoping there will be no additional festive hangover from his team as they look to return to winning ways.

With both clubs riding high at the top end of English rugby's top flight, the battle for key league points merely adds to the spice of what is always an intriguing battle between both sides.

With the Chiefs having claimed victories in the two most recent meetings – both in the LV= Cup – Baxter is hopeful they can make it a hat-trick of wins and a first-ever Premiership success against their nearest and dearest.

Bath, though, will be no pushovers and with Mike Ford's side at virtually full-strength for the game, the home side will have an embarrassment of riches to select from in the build-up to the derby clash.

Likewise, Baxter has equally strong options at his disposal and he's confident that after a bit of soul-searching in the wake of the Sale defeat, his players will respond in the right manner this weekend.

"In hindsight to come away with a bonus point last week, especially the way we played, was probably a genuine bonus for us,” said Baxter.

"We will be the first to admit we weren't as good as we should have been, yet we've come away with something on a tough night.

"Ultimately, when you do look back at teams who do have successful seasons, it's then you realise it's points like that we collected last week that are the most vital. At this stage we've taken something from every game this season and it's very important we continue to do that.

"Big games are going to be won and lost later in the season, but it's what we are doing at the moment, which is fighting to be in those big games, that is equally as important. Last week at Sale we know we weren't good enough, but we've not gone away and made massive changes to the way we do things, simply because a lot of what we have done this season has been successful.

"What we have to do is get back to doing what we do best – and doing that flat out because if you don't play flat out in the Premiership, you tend to lose games of rugby. There is no area in between.”  

In the aftermath of his side's loss at the AJ Bell Stadium, Baxter reflected that after such an impressive run of form, it's often human nature that at some stage a team will look to draw breath.

Well, if that's the case, the Chiefs leader is confident his team have regrouped sufficiently and are ready to resume their assault on the division's leading lights.

Baxter continued: "As frustrating and disappointing as it is when you lose, sometimes you need to step back and realise this is a group of players who have worked extremely hard for a long part of the season so far and we've had a bit of a slip-up. We've dealt with losses very well in the past and that's what we've got to do again. I'm not going to dwell on it.

"This season we've beaten Northampton away and what did they do from that? They've gone on and been very good, it didn't end their season or be a defining moment for them. That's what we've got to do, we've got to move forward.

"Bath away is probably the hardest fixture this season, but that's a great challenge for us and probably not a bad time to have that on the back of a loss because there's only one way to go – we have to go up there and fly into the game and see what happens.

"It's a tough place, not many teams go there and win now, they've established some real quality, and it's something I hope we'll get really excited about. I'm looking forward to it already. That's the best thing about being in the Premiership, you go from game to game and move on.

"This is the best we've been at this stage of the season, and we should be excited about that. I don't want the players to feel down about Sale, I want them to feel excited about where we are in the Premiership.

"We're pretty much at the halfway stage of the season now and we're going fine. We have to concentrate on those good things and not the odd mistake we make.”

Indeed, Baxter – who makes three changes to his starting line-up from that which took to the field against the Sharks – says the signs this season show that his team are on an upward curve and that he's determined to keep them rising between now and the end of the season.

He added: "Even despite the Sale game, the signs are there that we are much improved this season. Our set-piece, our kick game, our defence they have all been better. Defensively we are still the third best in the Premiership, there are still areas of our game, halfway through the season, that are noticeably improved.

"The stats say it, the results say it, so that's something we have to go back to and say why are they working well. If we do that, we refocus on those things and reinforce that against Bath. There are no magic answers, quite often it's about working hard and not getting bored of doing the right things.

"Often if you're competitive in games it's because you're doing the right things and it's surprising how often teams go off track when they are winning and doing okay doing some relatively basic things quite well. That's going to be the important thing for us, going back to the basics, get back to those core values that have been very good for us, and just believing in them and sticking to them.”

Team news for the Chiefs sees Jack Yeandle and Don Armand recalled to the pack in place of Luke Cowan-Dickie and Ben White, while behind the sole changes sees Sam Hill returned to the midfield at the expense of Ian Whitten. On the bench, Tomas Francis and Fetu'u Vainikolo are also included ahead of Alex Brown and Adam Hughes.

15 Phil Dollman
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 Moray Low
4 Dean Mumm (capt)
5 Damian Welch
6 Dave Ewers
7 Don Armand
8 Thomas Waldrom

16 Luke Cowan-Dickie
17 Carl Rimmer
18 Tomas Francis
19 Mitch Lees
20 Kai Horstmann
21 Haydn Thomas
22 Ian Whitten
23 Fetu'u Vainikolo

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