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Chiefs side to face Sale Sharks

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Rob Baxter insists confidence within the Exeter Chiefs camp remains high despite slipping to defeat against Aviva Premiership leaders Saracens last Sunday.

The Devon club saw their 13-month long unbeaten home record finally ended as Charlie Hodgson’s late penalty ensured the defending champions of a 14-11 success at Sandy Park.

Tomorrow, the Chiefs have the chance to put things right at the first attempt when they travel to the AJ Bell Stadium to face an in-form Sale Sharks.

Like Baxter’s side, the Sharks have been impressive on home soil and you have to go all the way back to April to register their last loss at the Manchester venue.

Add into the mix that Steve Diamond’s head into this latest tussle buoyed by a first win at Leicester Tigers in eight years and it makes for a testing away-day for the second-placed Chiefs.

"It’s always a tough place to go as Sale play well at home," warned Baxter. "They have a good home record and they come into this weekend having just beaten Leicester at Welford Road.

"That said, our focus is more on ourselves and the fact that we are a team in good form ourselves. We’re playing well and just because we lost at the weekend, it should not dent our confidence because we know if we play well, good things tend to happen."

Although disappointed to lose to Sarries, Baxter has stressed his side remain in a highly promising position in the Premiership and has urged his players to use that loss as motivation to return to winning ways.

"If any of the players are walking around now feeling a bit meek and mild and feeling a bit sorry for themselves then they will be the guys who get the rocket from me," he added.

"That is because we are five points off the lead halfway through a Premiership season and we have worked extremely hard to get where we are.

"There are a lot of positives, so what I expect is for us to push on now and look to enjoy the second half of the season as we have the first half.

"You don't panic after results like Sunday's, you learn from them. I'm expecting the boys to train hard this week and give themselves every opportunity to win up at Sale this weekend.

"It is important in its own right as a Premiership game of rugby and we have to prepare well for it, but it is not make-or-break time. Seasons don't come down to make-or-break times, they are about how you train and how you perform on a regular basis because things iron themselves out over the course of a season."

Having already defeated the Sharks 33-17 at Sandy Park back on Boxing Day, the Chiefs will be looking to record their first league double of the season this weekend.

Although Baxter says that festive meeting between the two clubs doesn’t really come into his thinking this weekend .

"As I said, our focus is primarily on ourselves and what we do. We know it will be tough and Sale have a good home record.  For us, though, we know we’re in for a fight and that we will have to lay a lot of energy down on the pitch.

"That, however, is a given for any Premiership game. We have to be prepared to go up there and work hard because if we don’t, then we should even entertain any idea of coming away from there with any points."

With Six Nations call-ups again robbing Baxter of the services of Jack Nowell (England), Michele Campagnaro (Italy) and Tomas Francis (Wales), he sticks with a largely unchanged match-day squad for tomorrow’s game.
The sole change in the starting line-up sees Jonny Hill recalled to the second row alongside the experienced Geoff Parling with Ollie Atkins dropping down to the bench at the expense of Lewis Stevenson.

Otherwise, the Chiefs parade the same personnel that were on show last Sunday against Saracens.

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 Harry Williams
19 Ollie Atkins
20 Kai Horstmann
21 Dave Lewis
22 Will Hooley
23 Max Bodilly

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