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Chiefs side to face Newcastle Falcons

Rob Baxter believes Sunday’s Aviva Premiership trip to Newcastle Falcons will show lessons have been learned in the period since the club’s last trip to the North East.

It was back in October that the Chiefs last visited Kingston Park, but it was an unhappy occasion for the visitors who slipped to a 29-24 reverse.

For the Falcons, it ended an almost year long wait for a league win and they celebrated it post-match as if we're a season defining moment.

However, the Chiefs – who ultimately ended up missing out on the play-offs last season on points difference – know it was games such as this one which proved costly in the final shake-up – and Baxter is keen to ensure there is no repeat showing this weekend.

"It is just about keeping pressure on being at the end of the table that we want to be at,” said Baxter. "Gathering points is all we are concerned about.

"Yes, we felt we let ourselves down a little bit last year, but at the same time Newcastle performed very well on the day and I remember talking afterwards about how they outplayed us on the day and how they deserved their win.

"What we have to make sure we do this time around is put in a performance that merits the win and that is all you can really focus on.”

With 15 minutes remaining in last season's encounter, the Chiefs led 24-17 and looked on course to record the away win – but a late rally from the Falcons saw them score two late tries and secure the win.

"Last season's defeat sticks in the memory – when you end the season and are equal on points with other teams but don't go into the top four due to points difference then you do look at games you lost," added Baxter.

"This is a very important game for us and a chance to show that we have learned lessons from last season.

"As I said, we deserved to lose that game – I have no problem saying that – and Newcastle thoroughly deserved to win. We have got to go up there and put in a performance this time that says we deserve to win.

"Last season showed us that it is not an easy place to go. They are a team that have said certain things about wanting to be higher up the league than seasons past.

"They have made some new signings and have all of their World Cup players back too, so they will be getting those guys back in action.

"I think they will be a little bit disappointed with their start but, like us, they will be looking to use their home form as a basis for the season and we have to be sure we are 100 per cent prepared for this game."

The Chiefs,  though, will come into the game buoyed by last week's impressive 38-11 home win over London Irish – a result that lifted them to third in the standings heading into this weekend's fixtures.

That said, Baxter says that performance has now been confined to the history books and it's the 'here and now' which occupies the thought of himself and his squad. Although content with large parts of his side's display last time out, the Chiefs leader believes there is still more to come from his players.

"Our focus has to move beyond London Irish very quickly," he said. "We don't have any major team issues. We've been good defensively and various bits of our game are looking good at the moment.

"Our scrum was still a little hit-and-miss for my liking. It was okay and did not become a pressure-reliever for London Irish, but I would like to be a little more dominant and we will work on that.

"We are just not quite purring, not every cog is clicking along in the right way at the moment. It isn't a back-to-the-drawing-board thing though. There were some good scrums at the weekend, we just need to find that consistency.

"These are all elements we have to get right against Newcastle this weekend."

Team news for the Chiefs sees Baxter tinker somewhat with his starting XV from seven days ago. In the backs, Matt Jess will run out for his 100th Premiership appearance for the club, replacing two-try hero Jack Nowell, who misses out because of the artificial surface at Kingston Park.

Also back in the centre is Sam Hill, who takes over from Ian Whitten, while up front summer signing Julian Salvi gets his first start for the Chiefs, coming into a re-jigged back-row that sees Don Armand moves to No.8 and Thomas Waldrom drop to the bench. Ollie Atkins is also recalled amongst the replacements for the injured Geoff Parling.

15 Phil Dollman
14 Matt Jess
13 Henry Slade
12 Sam Hill
11 James Short
10 Gareth Steenson (capt)
9 Will Chudley
1 Ben Moon
2 Luke Cowan-Dickie
3 Tomas Francis
4 Mitch Lees
5 Damian Welch
6 Dave Ewers
7 Julian Salvi
8 Don Armand

16 Jack Yeandle
17 Alec Hepburn
18 Moray Low
19 Ollie Atkins
20 Thomas Waldrom
21 Dave Lewis
22 Ian Whitten
23 Olly Woodburn

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