Having seen his side return to winning ways in the Aviva Premiership last weekend, Exeter Chiefs head coach Rob Baxter is hoping for more of the same at Harlequins tomorrow (3pm).
Last Saturday’s 46-17 home win over Newcastle Falcons was just the pick-me-up the Westcountry outfit needed following a turgid run of league form either side of Christmas.
Four successive losses meant the Chiefs had allowed a number of their top flight rivals around them to close in – and with it create a bit of log-jam with regards to the positioning around the top end of the table.
Thankfully, normal service was resumed at Sandy Park a week ago as Baxter’s charges helped themselves to six tries on the day
Keen to build on that latest triumph, the Chiefs will head to the capital with an unchanged starting XV for the clash at the Twickenham Stoop. England’s decision to release Jack Nowell from their training base on Thursday means the young Cornishman will again get another chance to impress in the Exeter midfield alongside Sam Hill.
Exeter’s sole change in personnel comes on the bench where Dave Lewis is preferred as back-up scrum-half to Haydn Thomas. Tom Johnson, who is also named amongst the visiting replacements, will be making his 150th league appearance for the club should he enter the field at any stage.
With little change to his line-up, Baxter and his team of coaches have spent much of this week working on a detailed game plan to overcome Harlequins on their own patch.
Despite recent results, plus their current league position, Baxter is well aware of the threat posed by Conor O’Shea’s side and says the Chiefs will have to be at their best if they are to prosper.
“With Quins’ being one of the teams in contention around us, obviously it becomes a very important game for the both of us,” said Baxter. “If you look at the games we’ve had with them over the years, whether we win or lose, both sides want to play with ball in hand.
“They are obviously a very good side. They have been at the top-end of the competition for quite some years now and they have even won it recently.
“They will be looking for the win, not just because of their result last weekend [37-6 at Wasps], but also because they are not doing as well as they would like overall and they want to be at the business-end of the league come the end.”
Baxter continued: “Quins have put pressure on themselves saying it’s a ‘must-win’ game, but we have less pressure because I’m a big believer that no season should depend on one results. As I said, it will certainly be a big occasion for both clubs because we’re both ambitious and we both want to achieve things.
“What was frustrating for us, especially after the last block of Premiership games, is had we got a few more points under our belt, it would have pulled us nicely away from that mid-table group and we would have had that little bit of breathing space.
“Where we are lucky now, I suppose, is that we are playing teams around us in the competition. Some people and some sides would be scared of that, but we see it as a great opportunity. To be playing Harlequins this weekend is somewhat double-edged as it gives us the chance to try and win some points, whilst at the same time we’re looking to stop one of our rivals getting points – and that is how we have to look at it moving forward.”
15 Phil Dollman
14 Ian Whitten
13 Jack Nowell
12 Sam Hill
11 Matt Jess
10 Henry Slade
9 Will Chudley
1 Ben Moon
2 Luke Cowan-Dickie
3 Tomas Francis
4 Dean Mumm (capt)
5 Damian Welch
6 Dave Ewers
7 Ben White
8 Thomas Waldrom
16 Jack Yeandle
17 Carl Rimmer
18 Alex Brown
19 Mitch Lees
20 Tom Johnson
21 Dave Lewis
22 Gareth Steenson
23 Byron McGuigan