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Chiefs side to face Sale Sharks

Rob Baxter admits the savage bite Sale Sharks gave his Exeter Chiefs side back in April remains fresh within the minds of himself and his players ahead of their latest Aviva Premiership match-up at the AJ Bell Stadium tomorrow night (7:45pm).

The Chiefs suffered a record top flight loss when the Sharks claimed only their second-ever victory against their Devon rivals when they won 55-12 at Sandy Park.

In the aftermath of that result, Baxter apologised to the club's fan-base, claiming his side had "let the supporters down" with an abject display.

Since that dark day, the feel-good factor has certainly returned to the Exeter camp – particularly this season – where the club find themselves third in the Premiership standings and top of both their European and LV= Cup pools heading into the New Year.

However, Baxter knows his side will have to be at their very best against the Sharks if they are to maintain their standing amongst the division's frontrunners.

"Obviously the last time we played them is still quite fresh in our minds – it was a stuffing to be honest," said Baxter. "We were well beaten here at Sandy Park and I think that is going to stick in our minds. I am hoping that will give us extra motivation, but the fact is that both ourselves and Sale are going pretty well at the moment.

"We have obviously mentioned it to the players. It was one of those rare occasions that – without taking anything away from Sale, who played well on the day – we were definitely below par. We did not perform in a way that was acceptable and I think that, for me in particular, it was a bit of a humbling experience to have to sit there and have to watch it.

"We have talked about it since and it is not something that we should be prepared to accept or that happens often given our qualities."

This term, though, Baxter's side have underlined their qualities and having netted successive victories over champions Northampton Saints, Wasps and Saracens in the last block of Premiership fixtures, hopes are high that Devon's finest can continue their rich vein of form.

With eight wins on the bounce to their name, confidence is certainly high within the Exeter ranks ahead of their trek to the North West.

"We have probably spoken more about the positives in playing good rugby," added Baxter. "By playing well, we are in a positive position in all competitions. We should focus more on that than the past, but it is undoubtedly something that we do want to put right.

"They [Sale] are on a good run of results in the Premiership, as are ourselves, and that obviously makes it a fantastic challenge.

"We are obviously pleased at how the Premiership season is going for us to date and we want to keep that going. It is going to be a challenging game but we are on pretty good form, so I am anticipating a good game up there.

"It is like anything – winning runs are put together through the hard work you do week on week, but what we did in a Premiership game seven weeks ago counts for very little. What matters is the preparation we put in this week and our mind-set – that is what we have to focus on."

And having utilised the recent European games against La Rochelle to get game minutes into a large number of his squad, Baxter feels his players are in fine fettle ahead of what is yet another crucial block of games in the top division.

Team news for the Chiefs sees Baxter welcome back all of his frontline stars, including skipper Dean Mumm, No.8 Thomas Waldrom and fly-half Gareth Steenson.

Waldrom, who was recently crowned the Premiership Player of the Month for November, currently tops the divisional try-scoring charts with seven to his name, whilst the deadly boot of Steenson is also top of the pile with 131 points – 27 of which came in his side's last league win against Saracens.

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

1 Ben Moon
2 Luke Cowan-Dickie
3 Moray Low
4 Dean Mumm (capt)
5 Damian Welch
6 Dave Ewers
7 Ben White
8 Thomas Waldrom

16 Jack Yeandle
17 Carl Rimmer
18 Alex Brown
19 Mitch Lees
20 Kai Horstmann
21 Haydn Thomas
22 Sam Hill
23 Adam Hughes

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