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Chiefs side to face Harlequins


Rob Baxter is challenging his Exeter Chiefs side to "want more" as they gear up for the club’s first-ever appearance in the Aviva Premiership play-offs.

The Chiefs will wrap up the final round of the scheduled domestic season at Harlequins tomorrow (3:30pm) knowing a victory in the capital will guarantee them home advantage in a fortnight's time in the last four.

Last weekend's impressive 24-3 victory over Wasps saw them leapfrog the Midlanders back into second spot, effectively putting them back in control of their own destiny at such a crucial stage of the campaign.

Buoyed by that success, Baxter now wants his players to replicate the feat against a Harlequins side, who themselves will be gunning for glory, not just because it's Director of Rugby Conor O'Shea's final home game, but because they know a triumph will put them amongst Europe's elite next season in the Champions Cup.

"The challenge for us is not to be in a semi-final, we've done that," said Baxter. "Instead, we have still got the challenge of are we the kind of club to drive home that home semi-final? Then when the semi-final comes around, can we win a semi-final?"

It's a strong message from Baxter, who doesn't want his players just to be content with having reached the play-offs.

Instead, he is hammering home a defiant message to his squad, telling them they are now just two games away from becoming potential champions.

"The challenges are still ahead of us, but they are exciting ones," added the Chiefs leader. "They are challenges I want us to approach flat out. I don't want us to be looking back after thinking I wish I tried harder – or I could have been a bit better – let's make sure we leave it all out on the field.

"As I see it, we really should be putting pressure on ourselves to play our best rugby of the season. Right now things are getting interesting. Yes, it's great to be in a semi-final and it's a huge achievement for us, but as I said before the Wasps game, I want the players to challenge themselves to get more and more at this stage of the season."

However, before the Chiefs switch their attentions to that of the play-offs, they have the small matter of this latest engagement at The Stoop.

"It's a huge game for us and a very important game for Harlequins, hence why it's been put on TV," explained Baxter. "It's probably the tie of the round. For us, though, we are fighting for something very special, which is a home semi-final here at Sandy Park,

"For Harlequins, they too have plenty to play for as they are fighting to get into that top flight of European competition, plus they have that added incentive that they are saying goodbye to Conor, so we know it's going to be a tough game."

Ahead of kick-off, Baxter has rotated his playing options from that of a week ago against Wasps. Up front, Alec Hepburn and Jack Yeandle come into the front-row, Damian Welch is added to the second-row, while an elbow injury to Don Armand means Thomas Waldrom returns at No.8. Behind the pack, Sam Hill – who came off the bench against Wasps – is given the nod over Ian Whitten in the centre, while James Short is recalled on the wing with Olly Woodburn dropping down to the bench.

Despite the reshuffle, Baxter is excited by the mix he has put together for tomorrow's test and insists his team are in "a good place" to attack these final weeks.

"I actually think physically and mentally we have prepared very well," continued Baxter. "We know we had a tough game at the weekend, but we are bouncing through that quite well.

"The important thing is not to get carried away about talking about a fantastic game of rugby, it's more about us making sure we get the bits and pieces right, which is quality of defence – which was outstanding at the weekend – our physicality around the breakdown, and the basics of how hard we are prepared to work.

"Right now we've lots of options and a strong group of players. I am expecting them all to play a full part right through to the end of the season, and if we expect them to play a full part, then we have to trust them to come into the 23 and do a good job for us."

Tomorrow's match at The Stoop is a complete sell-out, although the game will be screened live on BT Sport for those unable to attend.

15 Phil Dollman
14 Jack Nowell
13 Henry Slade
12 Sam Hill
11 James Short
10 Gareth Steenson
9 Will Chudley

1 Alec Hepburn
2 Jack Yeandle (capt)
3 Harry Williams
4 Mitch Lees
5 Damian Welch
6 Dave Ewers
7 Julian Salvi
8 Thomas Waldrom

16 Luke Cowan-Dickie
17 Ben Moon
18 Carl Rimmer
19 Geoff Parling
20 Kai Horstmann
21 Dave Lewis
22 Ian Whitten
23 Olly Woodburn

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