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Chiefs side to face Saracens

Ricky Pellow believes it’s testament to the quality and professionalism within the squad that Exeter Chiefs are pushing hard for honours on three fronts this season.

Having positioned themselves nicely amongst the Premiership's leading lights, as well as booking a last eight place in the European Challenge Cup, the Devon club last week became the first side to ensure their place in this season's LV= Cup semi-finals with victory away to the Newport-Gwent Dragons.

Last Sunday's 37-32 success at Rodney Parade meant the Chiefs will top Pool Four regardless of what happens against Saracens at Allianz Park this Sunday (3pm).

What is up for grabs, however, is the possibility of securing an all-important home semi-final with success against the Londoners, who themselves need a victory to advance into the latter stages.

So far this season, the Chiefs – who won the LV= Cup for the first time last March – have accounted for league rivals Bath and Gloucester on home soil, as well as the Dragons last time out.

It has – to all extent and purposes – been a decent campaign to date for the Westcountry outfit, but skills coach Pellow knows this is where the bar gets raised in terms of performance and results and says the Chiefs must be ready to face their toughest test yet.

"Whatever competition we find ourselves in, we're always willing to fight for everything,” said Pellow. "Going to Saracens this weekend, it's a good test for us and one that certainly won't be easy. However, this group – especially after the performance they put in last week – are desperate to do well and ensure we get that home semi-final.

"It's a massive credit to the squad with how professional they've been and how they've looked after themselves that we're fighting on three fronts.

"To be in a position at this time of the year in terms of having a semi-final spot and fighting to retain the LV= Cup and getting out of our group in Europe is a massive credit to the guys individually and collectively as a group.

"If we can get a home semi-final we know, after last year's final, what support we'll get. It's a massive thing to put in front of the players that if they can get that home semi-final, what a day it will be again. It shows how we've grown as a club and group of players that we can do that again.”

With the Chiefs resisting the temptation to recall many of their frontline stars, Pellow says the opportunity is there for those who played last week – and again this week – to showcase their credentials to Rob Baxter.

The Exeter head coach has said many times in the past that he will always pick on form – and that fixtures like that of this weekend and last can help to elevate a player firmly back into the mix.

Pellow says the buzz in and around Sandy Park this week underlines the determination and character that exists within the Chiefs squad – and he is expecting a big performance from those men who have been given the call to duty.

"Obviously last week was a really pleasing performance for us down at Newport,” added Pellow. "But already this week the guys have come back in, they've reset themselves well and the intensity in training has gone up another level.

"As I said, they are all very excited about going to Saracens because it's going to be two teams ready to fight it out for what will be a home semi-final.

"We're going to go in with the same squad. We feel this group of players have got us into that semi-final spot and we'll give them another opportunity to go to Saracens and have another crack at it.”

Pellow continued: "Looking at the squad we put out last weekend, we're happy with that squad of players and we want to give them more game time and an opportunity to put their hand up for selection for the Newcastle game (in the Aviva Premiership on February 14).

"With the sprinkling of academy and senior guys, we know we've got a squad that can push us on and hopefully get that home semi-final spot.”

In the starting XV, the Chiefs have made just one change with Academy youngster Max Bodilly given his opportunity in the centre in place of Ian Whitten. On the bench, Carl Rimmer and Alex Brown both return to bolster the front-row options, whilst also included are Ben White, Will Chudley and Jack Arnott.

Cornishman Bodilly is one of a number of Exeter's homegrown talents and together who with the likes of Sam Simmonds and Sam Skinner have shown they are capable of competing at the top end.

"It's another good opportunity for Max,” said Pellow. "If you look at it, he's been one of the stand-out performers in the backs when it comes to the A League this year, so he's got a chance to push his claims again this weekend.

"He's had a great year so far, not just with us, but with the Pirates where he has been outstanding. At the same time, look at Sam Simmonds and Sam Skinner last weekend, their actions and their impacts on the game were very important.

"Like Max, Simmo has been playing down at Plymouth in the Championship this year and you can see he's really added to his game and put in a number of solid performances.”

Pellow added: "It's not just the Academy guys though, guys like Ceri Sweeney, Tom James, Fetu'u Vainikolo, they've also added a great deal to the squad. Last weekend Ceri really led the side well and the likes of TJ, Fetz, Tom Johnson, they all did their bit to help record what was a very good win on the day.

"We'll need them to do the same again this weekend as Saracens will be tough, but I know we've had a really good week to prepare for the game and we'll go for it when we get up there,”

15 Byron McGuigan
14 Fetu'u Vainikolo
13 Max Bodilly
12 Adam Hughes
11 Tom James
10 Ceri Sweeney (capt)
9 Dave Lewis
1 Brett Sturgess
2 Elvis Taione
3 Tomas Francis
4 Jerry Sexton
5 Will Carrick-Smith
6 Tom Johnson
7 Sam Simmonds
8 Sam Skinner

16 Greg Bateman
17 Carl Rimmer
18 Alex Brown
19 Ed Holmes
20 Ben White
21 Will Chudley
22 Laurence May
23 Jack Arnott

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