TOP BAR - Fixtures

Chiefs side to face Saracens

Rob Baxter says his Exeter Chiefs team look in "fine fettle" ahead of Sunday’s crunch Aviva Premiership encounter with Saracens (2pm).

With just two rounds of the scheduled season remaining, the Devon club know a first-ever victory at Allianz Park is essential if they are to keep alive their hopes of being in the end of season play-offs for the first time.

Defeat at Wasps last time out saw Baxter’s side slip out of the top four, one point behind fourth-placed Leicester Tigers, but with Wasps and the Tigers set to meet this weekend, the Chiefs could well capitalise on their closest rivals for that last play-off berth.

As Baxter readily points out, these are indeed "exciting times" for his side, who he says must leave nothing behind in their quest to reach the top four.

The Chiefs head coach was left frustrated by the first half of his side’s display against Wasps, but he saw enough during the second period to give him renewed confidence heading into this weekend’s tussle.

"We’ve had a couple of good training days last week and this week and we look in fine fettle going into Sunday," said Baxter. "One thing you know when you go to Saracens is that you have to lay a lot of energy into the game. I think we are quite good at that and it’s given us a good focus going into this week. That said, we know we will have to put in a fantastic performance if we are to get anything from the game.

"We have never been at this stage of the season where we have been in an LV Final, been in a European semi-final and pushing at the very top end of the table. In some ways a win at Saracens would make the last round of the Premiership massively exciting for us and I think that’s what we have to do.

"We have to lay it all out in this one game and see what happens. It’s similar for Saracens, they will want to win and they are a team that are used to being there at this stage of the season, so it will be great to see which team handles the pressure the better."

Having had a week to recharge the batteries and analyse the Wasps performance, Baxter insists everything is in place for his side to lay everything on the line this weekend.

He added: "Yes, I was frustrated with the Wasps game, not because we lost, Wasps played well, they are a good side and they are going well at the Ricoh, so a bonus point loss up there is by no means the end of the world.

"My frustration was more about how we went about the game, particularly in that first half. Had we been more positive, I think we could really have got after that game. Yes it disappointed me, we were a little bit passive, a bit edgy, our skills and our intensity wasn’t quite what we wanted, but those are the things we have talked about this week and said we have to bring if we want to win this weekend.

"Saracens, we know, are a very good side and they don’t run away from what they are good at. They don’t mind telling you what their strengths are and they try to enforce them on you every you time you play them. We have had a couple of really good fixtures against them this year and I think our boys have a great respect for them because we like to think of ourselves as a hard working club and Saracens think the same.

"That often creates some very good performances and good fixtures. We were obviously pleased with our performance against them at home in the Premiership – and in some ways I was very pleased with our performance in the LV= Cup Final because we showed a lot of qualities to get back into the game from a situation that had happened.

"I think going into this weekend, we know things stay in our hands if we win," continued Baxter. "If we lose it, then it will be tough to get into that top four. However, it won’t mean we’ve not had a good season. If we win, though, it would mean we keep this season exciting and going for a lot longer."

Team news for the Chiefs sees Gareth Steenson recalled at fly-half with Henry Slade switching to centre in place of Jack Nowell; whilst up front Luke Cowan-Dickie starts at hooker and Ben White is fit again and returns to the back-row.

On the bench, Academy youngster Max Bodilly comes in for his first-ever inclusion in a Premiership squad, while Tongan international Fetu’u Vainikolo is also included.

15 Byron McGuigan
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 Dave Ewers
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 Fetu’u Vainikolo
23 Max Bodilly

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