Ricky Pellow says he is ready to unleash an exciting mix of youth and experience as Exeter Chiefs prepare to kick-off their Anglo-Welsh Cup campaign away to Harlequins tomorrow (5:30pm).
After a testing period of fixtures in both the Aviva Premiership and European Champions Cup, this weekend’s change of scenery could be just what the doctor ordered for Devon’s finest.
With skills coach Pellow being handed the role of Commander-in-Chief for the visitors, he has selected a powerful line-up for their opening fixture in the nation’s capital.
Not only will he be buoyed by the return of key figures such as Dave Ewers and Phil Dollman from injury, but he will also be able to parade some notable names in the match-day squad, including international stars Greg Holmes, Tom Johnson, Ollie Devoto, Elvis Taione and Moray Low.
Add into the mix a healthy splattering of Exeter’s much-talked about Academy system such as skipper Jack Maunder, Max Bodilly, Joe Simmonds, Harry Strong and Tom Lawday, the latter of whom is linked with Exeter University, and it’s little wonder the Cornishman is optimistic about his side’s chances moving forward.
“Over the last four or five years we’ve put a real importance on this competition,” said Pellow. “Because of the Rugby World Cup last year, we missed not having it around, so to have it back this year not only gives me a chance to head up the side, but it also gives us a chance to mix things up in terms of those playing.
“It means we can look at those guys who are coming back from injury, those young guys who you want to see get some game time at a higher level, and those senior guys who will be pushing hard to try a get spot in the Premiership side.
“For us we’ve always used the Anglo-Welsh Cup as a big development tool and this season will be no different. It will be a great opportunity for a number of those young guys to go out and play in what will be a big occasion and with a bit more pressure than what they are normally used to.
“At the same time, we’ll have that sprinkling of senior guys in there as well, so it’s really exciting for all of us as to what we can go out and do.”
Although the Chiefs have failed to win in their last five fixtures, Pellow insists confidence within the camp remains high and believes an upturn in fortunes during the next fortnight can help to reignite the club ahead of their return back into the Premiership.
“It’s been a tough couple of weeks and games have not gone our way, but we know we’re not a million miles away,” said Pellow. “A bounce of a ball, a decision here or there, a tackle where we make a turnover, any of those things go the other way and we could have had two wins and we’d be in a great position.
“There’s no real panic as such, we know we just need to be more clinical with what we are doing, fight for everything, and show what it means to play for Exeter Chiefs.”
Standing in the way of the Chiefs – who have reached the final of the competition on the past two occasions – will be a Harlequins outfit who themselves will be looking to make a flying start to their campaign on home soil.
Pellow is well aware of the threat the Londoners pose, warning: “They are a good attacking side, so we need to be switched on for the whole 80 minutes. We know they’ll look to tap and go, take quick throws and offload when they can, so we need to be ready for that.”
15 Phil Dollman
14 Max Bodilly
13 Ollie Devoto
12 Sam Hill
11 James Short
10 Will Hooley
9 Jack Maunder (capt)
1 Ben Moon
2 Shaun Malton
3 Greg Holmes
4 Ollie Atkins
5 Jonny Hill
6 Dave Ewers
7 Ben White
8 Tom Johnson
16 Elvis Taione
17 Moray Low
18 Billy Keast
19 Damian Welch
20 Tom Lawday
21 Stuart Townsend
22 Joe Simmonds
23 Harry Strong