Rob Baxter insists there will be no ditching the Exeter Chiefs game plan despite the club slipping to three successive Aviva Premiership defeats.
Having headed into the festive period safely ensconced in the division’s top four, they head into Round 13 of this season’s competition having dropped to sixth place following losses to Sale Sharks, Bath and Gloucester.
On Sunday, the Chiefs face London Irish at the Madejski Stadium (3pm) looking to get their campaign firmly back on track before they break for the next stages of European and LV= Cup battle.
Although frustrated with recent outcomes, particularly last weekend’s 26-25 home defeat to Gloucester, Baxter says the mood within the Exeter camp remains upbeat and is confident a few tweaks this week in training can have the desired effect.
"Last week we got some decision-making wrong and some of our accuracy was off in the things we did, but large parts of our game were very good," explained Baxter. "Therefore we’re not going to change masses; throw the game plan in the bin or look to redevelop things because that’s not the way to be successful.
"Each year we’ve been in the Premiership we’ve improved year on year, so it’s more a case of reinforcing our qualities and reinforcing the attitude and the accuracy to win games, then ramming it home in training."
Baxter continued: "As I said, it’s not like we’re standing here now and thinking things are falling down around our ears, because they are not. Huge parts of our game are still very much in place – and the attitude of the players is great.
"What recent results have done, however, is put some pressure on ourselves to collect some points. Like anything, when you put pressure on, that can create an edgy performance and I’d imagine there will be elements of Sunday that will see us being a bit edgy. However, that’s no bad thing as those are the things you have to deal with if you want to be a top of the table side."
With London Irish themselves struggling at the lower end of the table, Baxter has warned the Exiles will have ‘nothing to lose’ and ‘everything to gain’ when the two clubs meet this weekend.
And that in itself will make them a dangerous animal to contain, says the Chiefs coach. He added: "London Irish will come after us like they’ll go after a top side, with very little to lose but a lot to gain by starting to climb the table.
"We’ve got to be really looking forward to that because we want to prove we’re in the top half of this league right now because we deserve to be and the way we perform and everything we do shows that.
"As I’ve said numerous times to the players this season what challenges do you want? Do you want the challenge of staying in the top four or of trying to get into the top four?
"Do you want the challenge of staying in the top six or do you want to drop out of the top six?
"From our perspective, at least all our challenges are positives ones. It’s not like we are bottom of the table and trying to find our first win – or we’re in the bottom four trying to see if we can club out. We’re right in the mix and what we have to decide is whether we are going to fight to stay there and produce positive performances.
"On the whole it has this season, so we’re not standing here in a panic. If you lose a game nu a point like we did last week and we produce the opportunities like we did, I don’t think there is anything drastically wrong. What we have to do is just sharpen up our accuracy and improve our decision-making at the right times."
Team news for the Chiefs sees Baxter stick with an unchanged back division, but up front there are changes with Carl Rimmer and Tomas Francis both coming into the front-row, Damian Welch returns in the second row, whilst Don Armand – who missed last weekend’s game due to the birth of his first son, comes in at openside flanker.
On the bench, England international Tom Johnson gets his first outing with the first team following his neck operation this summer. He replaces Ben White, who picked up a knee injury in training this week.
15 Phil Dollman
14 Jack Nowell
13 Henry Slade
12 Sam Hill
11 Matt Jess
10 Gareth Steenson
9 Will Chudley
1 Carl Rimmer
2 Jack Yeandle
3 Tomas Francis
4 Dean Mumm (capt)
5 Damian Welch
6 Dave Ewers
7 Don Armand
8 Thomas Waldrom
16 Luke Cowan-Dickie
17 Ben Moon
18 Moray Low
19 Tom Johnson
20 Sam Simmonds
21 Haydn Thomas
22 Ian Whitten
23 Byron McGuigan