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Chiefs side to face Gloucester


With little time to wallow in the disappointment of their European Champions Cup exit, it’s back to the cut and thrust of the Aviva Premiership for Exeter Chiefs tomorrow as they take on Gloucester at Kingsholm (7:45pm).

Denied a place in the last four of Europe because of Jimmy Gopperth's last-gasp conversion a week ago, the prospect of booking a first-ever appearance in the Premiership play-offs should now act as the ideal incentive for Rob Baxter's side to attack the remainder of the season.

Having narrowly missed out on the play-offs last term due to points' difference, the Devon club have made no secret of the fact that this year they aim to go at least one stage further.

Currently sitting second in the standings, three adrift of leaders Saracens and three ahead of next best Wasps, the Chiefs know victory tomorrow night will at least guarantee them not only off a play-off berth, but also edge them ever closer to a potentially pivotal home semi-final.

Standing in their way, however, are a Cherry & Whites outfit who themselves are licking their wounds having surrendered the defence of their European Challenge Cup crown at the hands of the Dragons last weekend.

Not since October 2013 have the Chiefs triumphed at Kingsholm, so Baxter and his players know the challenge that awaits them in this latest match-up.

"It is almost the perfect game coming out of the European weekend," said Baxter. "Two teams that suffered close losses and who put a lot emotionally into the game and now have a short turnaround and it is a great test for both sides to see who can re-energise and reinvigorate themselves quickly for an important game of rugby.

"We have to focus on ourselves and if we do that and do it well, then we can start putting into a game that says we can get a home semi-final, but Gloucester are fighting for that European position and have a different battle to fight for, so it will be interesting to see who comes out on top.

"We have looked at their last few games very closely and I know they will have been disappointed with the home game against the Dragons and know there are a couple of areas they can tidy up and they will work hard on that this week.

"We are not preparing to go there to play a Gloucester team on its way down, we are preparing to play a Gloucester team that is prepared to fight and we know we will have to turn up mentally and physically bang on to make sure we put in a big performance."

Indeed, Baxter says the review of last week's Europe loss to Wasps has been short and sharp, reflecting more on the positives of the day, rather than worrying too much about the negatives of such a heart-breaking loss.

Baxter added: "I think what you have to be careful of is not getting too emotionally wrapped up and frustrated with little things that happened in the game because sport is not really like that.

"I think you have to deal with the winning and losing in as similar way because the reality and the truth of things are that you shouldn’t really analyse a game much differently whether you win or lose.

"The mistakes you make in a game you should work on and you should praise people for the things that go well. You shouldn’t change that depending on the result of a one-point game.

"On Monday, we had a similar review to what we would always do and showed the stuff we thought we could work on week-by-week and the things we felt we didn’t get right. We also made sure we looked at the stuff that went really well and we highlighted the positives and the good things we brought to the game in an even manner.

"I think that’s the way to do it and we would have done it similarly if we would have won. Obviously the body language and the feeling about the place would have been different, but our review would have been very similar."

And Baxter believes the importance of ensuring a home semi-final is key, particularly given the fact that all four of last weekend's Champions Cup winners took advantage of that very fact.

"I think the important way to look at things is what have we learnt from that game that we can use now in the next three weeks," continued Baxter. "For me – and I said it to the players after the game – that the best way to look at the game is that if you learn anything from our Champions Group pool in their hands right the way until the end and that made sure they had a home quarter-final.

"You have to question whether, in a game that tight, that made the difference and possibly it did. You can’t say for sure that it did, but what we did in our Champions Cup pool was under-perform in round one, we didn’t win the game and we didn’t even get a losing bonus point and that took the pool out of our direct control.

"I said to the players that if they want to use the hurt and disappointment, think of what could have made a difference. and what could have made the difference was keeping things in our hands.

"We have three rounds of Premiership fixtures now and we are second, so it [a home semi-final] is in our hands to finish second. We can’t control who finishes first because Saracens are playing their games, but we are in second place. If we win our games and pick up [bonus] points then we will stay second and we can make it work and make a home semi-final happen.

"I am not afraid to say that to the players and say that if someone puts something in your hands, you take it and make sure you take charge of it. That is our aim over the next two or three weeks."

Team news for the Chiefs sees Baxter make just one change to his starting XV from that of last weekend. A knee injury to Scottish international Moray Low means he misses out this, so Harry Williams is promoted from the bench with Carl Rimmer added to the match-day 23.

15 Lachlan Turner
14 Jack Nowell
13 Henry Slade
12 Ian Whitten
11 Olly Woodburn
10 Gareth Steenson (capt)
9 Will Chudley

1 Ben Moon
2 Luke Cowan-Dickie
3 Harry Williams
4 Mitch Lees
5 Geoff Parling
6 Don Armand
7 Julian Salvi
8 Thomas Waldrom

16 Jack Yeandle
17 Alec Hepburn
18 Carl Rimmer
19 Damian Welch
20 Dave Ewers
21 Dave Lewis
22 Michele Campagnaro
23 James Short

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