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Chiefs side to face Sale Sharks

Rob Baxter insists he and his Exeter Chiefs can ill afford to be distracted by events elsewhere in the Aviva Premiership tomorrow and instead focus their sole attentions on the visit of Sale Sharks to a sold-out Sandy Park (3:30pm).

With just one round of the scheduled season left to play, the Chiefs currently find themselves in unchartered waters, fourth in the standings and occupying the final play-off berth.

It's due reward for what has been a fantastic season for the Devon club, who have also notched up a second successive LV= Cup Final appearance, as well as a first-ever outing in a European semi-final along the way.
However, qualifying for the Premiership play-offs would be yet another remarkable feat for Baxter's side, who continue to impress just five season into their top flight existence.

To achieve their goal victory over Sale is seen as essential – but even then it may not be enough should results go in favour of play-off rivals Leicester Tigers, who entertain Northampton Saints at Welford Road and Saracens overcoming winless London Welsh at the Kassam Stadium.

As Baxter has spelt out clearly to his troops this week, all the Chiefs can worry about is their own battle which in itself is no formality, particularly as Sale still have an outside chance of snatching the final Champions Cup spot from Wasps.

"You look at Exeter Chiefs right now and we are level on points and level on wins with Saracens with Leicester one point ahead of us," said Baxter. "That is what the table is saying, we are there or thereabouts with just one round of the season left. It's all to play for us, but the most important thing is we focus on our job, which is to make sure we play very well here against Sale.

"What we have to do is avoid getting distracted about what's happening between Leicester and Northampton and what London Welsh and Saracens are doing, let them get distracted by one another, instead let's make sure we get the one thing we can control which is a good performance here."

Having lost to Sale in their last two Premiership meetings, Baxter is well aware the threat the Sharks pose to his side's top four aspirations.

"There's going to be an awful lot of chat about the other games, almost as though a win here for us is part of the ingredients and what else happens will decide things," continued the Chiefs leader. "That's what I want to fight against at all costs. Sale are going to come here with an outside chance to get into the Champions Cup.

"I know how hard we have worked to get back into the top six this season, and I know how hard Sale are going to work when they come down here. Sale deserve a lot of respect because they have beaten us in the past and they've beaten us well.

"We have talked about the potential distractions that are out there, we got those out the way at the start of the week by talking about them open and honestly, they are dealt with as far as I am concerned. Since then the way the guys have trained, they've trained very well this week, and they seem really focused and ready to play a big game of rugby."

Buoyed by last Sunday's impressive win away to Saracens, the Chiefs will head into Round 22 with real belief that they can achieve their goals if they replicate a similar display this weekend.

"What I liked about it more than anything was we've got to this stage of the season and gone to what I would call a traditional top four side, who are used to being here and winning games, and put in a level of performance that deserved a win," said Baxter. "What we showed was a level of physical intensity and commitment to win a games and that was very pleasing.

"Personally, I was really pleased for the players because they were aware they had not brought enough in their last two games – which was a semi-final in Europe and an important game at Wasps – but to deal with that in the manner they did, take it on the chin and turn it around in a couple of weeks, those are great qualities the team have shown.

"What we have to do now is make sure the Saracens game is not one of those nice fixtures in our past, but instead we have to make sure it means something. Therefore for it to mean something, we have to make sure we put in a win this weekend."

Indeed, Baxter view on the final day reckoning is somewhat simple 'what will be, will be' – and whatever the outcome he know the 2014/15 season has again be one to savour for everyone in the Westcountry.

"Getting to an LV final, a semi-final in Europe, the boys have worked extremely hard for all of that," said Baxter.

"The way I like to look at this weekend, having an opportunity to be involved in a game like this is a reward and a reward for all the hard work we've put in. What you have to do with rewards is take them with both hands and then further things come.

"As I said, the team have to hit the pitch in the right mind and what will be, will be. I just want us to be proud of what we have done on this day and other bits and pieces will take care of themselves. I'm not going to get in a war of words with what happens with Leicester and Northampton. Northampton have won the league and they deserve to do what they want to do. What we have to do is talk about ourselves and what we can do, it's that simple."

Team news for the Chiefs sees England international Jack Nowell return to the fray having sat out last weekend's match at Allianz Park. He returns in place of Byron McGuigan at full-back, whilst up front Dave Ewers misses out on the clash with a head injury, so Don Armand – back to full fitness – comes in to fill the number six jersey.

The game will also mark the final home game for Aussie international and club captain Dean Mumm, who is set to return to the Waratahs this summer after three seasons in England.

15 Jack Nowell
14 Ian Whitten
13 Henry Slade
12 Sam Hill
11 Matt Jess
10 Gareth Steenson
9 Will Chudley

1 Ben Moon
2 Luke Cowan-Dickie
3 Tomas Francis
4 Dean Mumm (capt)
5 Mitch Lees
6 Don Armand
7 Ben White
8 Thomas Waldrom

16 Jack Yeandle
17 Carl Rimmer
18 Alex Brown
19 Damian Welch
20 Kai Horstmann
21 Dave Lewis
22 Max Bodilly
23 Byron McGuigan

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