Rob Hunter has warned Exeter Chiefs to be wary of a potential backlash from London Irish when the two meet in the Aviva Premiership on Sunday (3pm).
Forwards coach Hunter is well aware the lowly Exiles will be hurting following last weekend’s 35-7 defeat at Northampton Saints and he believes they will be searching for an immediate response of sorts at the Madejski Stadium.
Bottom of the pile and with just three league victories to their name this term, Irish know they must make the most of home advantage and look to replicate their achievements of last season when a last-gasp drop-goal from Shane Geraghty gave them a 28-26 victory over the Devonians.
Addressing the media this week, Hunter admitted that particular result still lingers within the corridors of power at Sandy Park and with the Chiefs themselves looking to bounce back after successive defeats to Saracens and Sale Sharks, a big performance is needed from the visitors.
“If you look at last season’s game up there, it was one we felt we really underperformed in,” said Hunter. “We lost there last year and that, I guess, could have been the difference why we didn’t get into the top four come the end. Yes, we lost other games away as well last year, games we felt we should have won, but that one up there was one that really sticks in the memory.”
Keen to ensure Exeter’s bid for glory this season doesn’t de-rail with another setback in Reading, Hunter insists the Chiefs will be looking for a response of sorts following narrow losses in the past fortnight.
“We’re playing well and although we’ve lost a couple of games on the bounce, we know we’re not too far away with things,” added Hunter. “As a squad we know there are one or two things we can push through with after last weekend. Our entries into the 22 and our accuracy in there is normally a feature of ours, but it wasn’t good last week.
“The focus this week has been very much about ourselves and making sure we perform to our own high standards, the fact it’s London Irish merely adds a bit of spice because that, I felt, was one of our worse performances last year. We were very lacklustre up there and when we had the chance to win it, we didn’t and that’s burnt a bit with us for quite a while.”
Certainly the Chiefs got some form or redemption earlier this season when they collected maximum reward in a 38-11 victory at Sandy Park in Round Two, but Hunter expects a much tougher proposition from Tom Coventry’s side this weekend.
“We played well down here earlier in the season, but that does feel a long time ago now,” he said. “If you look at them now, they are much improved and way better organised. The fact their league position is what it is would imply things aren’t going too well for them but every game – cliched as it is – is super tough at this level.
“This is a very physical, very tough league and if you don’t rock up in the right way each week, you’ll get beaten. The results around the league last weekend showed that and with Irish getting a bit of a battering from Northampton, we have to be careful we don’t get on the back end of them coming off a big loss. Regardless of league position, we need the points as much as they do.”
Although undone at Sale a week ago, Chiefs head coach Rob Baxter has stuck with an unchanged starting XV with his only changes coming on the bench where international duo Tomas Francis and Michele Campagnaro are included at the expense of Harry Williams and Max Bodilly.
And the Westcountry outfit will be hoping they can pick up from where they left off at the AJ Bell, not from the outset where they found themselves 17-0 down at the break.
“At half time, I’ll be honest, a bonus point was looking a tough thing to get,” said Hunter. “Getting that bonus point away from home and looking at it in that sense, it was good. However, we’re we happy with the performance? No.
“We have beaten ourselves up about it a bit this week, but there comes a point where you have to move on and say what are we going to do about it? What we have do is get a good performance on the pitch, get the team prepped and get them ready for a big game this weekend.
“As we’ve said, we’re still in a good place. In a strange way results around the league went for us last weekend, but the disappointing thing was it was a good chance for us to rip ourselves away a bit from the chasing pack, so in a way it can be a comfort blanket if those other sides have lost, but actually it makes it more annoying as it was a good opportunity for us.
“We know we didn’t play well and Sale did, but we got things right in the second half last week and we have to build on that. The reality is we’ve lost to Sarries in a very tight game and we’ve lost to Sale, who have been very good at home all season. If they win the game in hand they have, all of a sudden that will put them in the mix, so they’re no mugs.
“It’s frustrating sometimes when people talk about them being less than what they are, but the truth is they are a very tough Premiership side – and it’s the same with London Irish and they will be a very tough proposition this weekend.”
15 Phil Dollman
14 Olly Woodburn
13 Ian Whitten
12 Sam Hill
11 James Short
10 Gareth Steenson
9 Will Chudley
1 Ben Moon
2 Jack Yeandle (capt)
3 Moray Low
4 Jonny Hill
5 Geoff Parling
6 Don Armand
7 Julian Salvi
8 Thomas Waldrom
16 Luke Cowan-Dickie
17 Alec Hepburn
18 Tomas Francis
19 Ollie Atkins
20 Kai Horstmann
21 Dave Lewis
22 Will Hooley
23 Michele Campagnaro