TOP BAR - Fixtures

Chiefs side to face London Welsh

Ali Hepher says Exeter Chiefs will go "full bore" at ensuring this latest block of Aviva Premiership fixtures finishes on a high note.

Having notched up successive league wins over Newcastle Falcons, Harlequins and Bath to move to third in the current standings, the Devon club will now be looking to add the scalp of lowly London Welsh to their list of victims at Sandy Park tomorrow (3pm).

It's certainly been an encouraging response from the Chiefs, who either side of Christmas lost four games on the bounce in the top flight.

However, buoyed by their first-ever league win against Bath a week ago, Exeter assistant coach Hepher has issued a timely warning to those who think the Chiefs merely have to turn up tomorrow to ensure themselves of a 11th Premiership win of the campaign.

Sixteen league defeats this term – including a 52-0 loss at home to the Chiefs on the opening weekend of the season – is hardly the stat the visiting Exiles would have wanted on their return to English rugby's top table, but Hepher acknowledges the threat their rivals pose despite their difficulties.

"They are not a bad side,” said Hepher. "Watching the game from earlier in the season, they had opportunities early door which, if they hung onto then, the game could well have been different. We're aware how much we had put into that game to get a result and we have to have the same approach again this weekend.

"Of course London Welsh will be disappointed from their perspective how things have gone, but if you watch the tapes – like we do – they are still threatening in attack; their defensive structure is organised and they take some knocking down, so we've got lots of work to do this weekend to get a win.”

Following tomorrow's game, the Chiefs will quickly switch their attentions to their upcoming LV= Cup semi-final with Leicester Tigers at Welford Road, but Hepher says the Premiership remains the priority for the club despite having advanced into the latter stages of that competition and also the European Challenge Cup.

"There is still lots of work to do,” said Hepher. 'The rest of the Premiership season will be tough and we've got a tough run in ourselves, but we're excited at what lies ahead. How we fare is ultimately in our own hands because there are lots of opportunities to be got, but we're in good form, good spirits and equally we're very focused on this weekend

"It's a massive game for us, especially on the back of three wins, so it's hugely important we now back it up with another. We've had another good week in training and we'll go full bore at this game. We're approaching it with more intensity than last week because there is no point to last week's performance if we don't perform this week and get the win.”

Indeed, the Chiefs know victory tomorrow will further cement their place amongst the division's frontrunners with just five rounds remaining – and Hepher says it's vital his team make the most of recent success and home territory to press their play-off claims.

"You just need to look at the league table,” he says. "This is another opportunity for us to just even further up the table and that has got to be our motivation. The guys have to tap into that and look to impress with their level of performance. We have told them all, we will judge them on this weeks and see how they mentally prepare and perform going forward.

"They know they have to put in a good performance, not just to win the game, but also to keep hold of their shirt. That in itself drives things from within the squad, so it's hugely important we turn up on Saturday in the right frame of mind.”

With rivals in and around the top set to be boosted by the return of key personnel following the culmination of this year's Six Nations, Hepher believes it's key the Chiefs make hay whilst they can.

"Being in good shape come the end of the Six Nations to go and compete in various different levels is key. Last year we obviously had the LV= Cup, which was a huge focus for us and we achieved that goal, but we maybe slipped off as a result of that in terms of the Premiership.

"We're not going to make the same mistake twice that's for sure. Our focus is completely on the Premiership with the bonus of being in the two Cup competitions. This is what it's all about. To be a top side at this level, this is when you want to be involved in big games and we're going to be involved in some big games coming up. That will be a great test for the guys and a great test for us as coaches, but it will certainly be exciting and something we will relish.”

It is little surprise therefore that the Chiefs stick with the tried and trusted personnel of a week ago. Aussie international Dean Mumm skippers the side from the second-row, whilst Will Chudley and Henry Slade – who between them scored all of Exeter's points against Bath – again form the half-back pairing.

15 Phil Dollman
14 Tom James
13 Ian Whitten
12 Sam Hill
11 Matt Jess
10 Henry Slade
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 Brett Sturgess
18 Alex Brown
19 Mitch Lees
20 Ben White
21 Dave Lewis
22 Gareth Steenson
23 Byron McGuigan

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