TOP BAR - Fixtures

Chiefs side to face Wasps

Rob Baxter admits there is real excitement in and around the Exeter Chiefs camp as they gear up for tomorrow’s crunch Aviva Premiership encounter with Wasps.

Devon's finest will head to the Ricoh Arena looking not to maintain their lofty placing within the division's top two, but at the same time inflict another telling blow on one of their potential rivals for a play-off place this term.

Like the Chiefs, Wasps are themselves in a rich vein of form and with an equally proud home record – they've only lost twice at their Coventry base since moving there a year ago – it has all the makings for the proverbial pre-Christmas cracker.

I”t's exciting not just because we're second in the Premiership and because Wasps are going very well, but it just feels like a big fixture and a good test for us and those are often very exciting games,” said Baxter.

"Their strong home record won't change much from our point of view. You just try and force your game plan on them to win the game. That doesn't change if you are home or away. We know they are a good side and if we go there under-prepared or mentally off-key then it will be very tough for us.

"I always like to think that where it is adds that extra bit of a challenge and adds more excitement and meaning if you win the game. That's how we are going to approach it and hopefully it will bring the best out of us.”

Certainly the Chiefs will need to be at their best against Dai Young's side who, in recent weeks, have not only kept pace at the top of the Premiership with some notable successes, but they've also impressed in Europe where they have sunk both Leinster and RC Toulon in as many weeks.

Baxter and his squad are well aware of the all-round threat posed by the Midlanders, adding: "They are very comfortable with what they are trying to do and they are happy with the rugby they are playing.

"They have multiple threats all over the field and if you make too many mistakes in the way you play, they are set up very well to capitalise.

"People talk a lot about their attacking qualities, but probably where they haven't got the credit they deserve is how good they have looked defensively.”

Indeed, Wasps have yet to leak a try at the Ricoh this season and the Chiefs will have to devise a cunning plan to find a way through the Black & Gold wall, which was just as tough to break down when the two sides met at the same venue towards the end of last season.

On that occasion, Wasps prevailed 36-29 as Andy Goode kicked 18 points to go alongside a penalty try and further touchdowns for Christian Wade and Joe Simpson.

Thankfully, Gareth Steenson's last-gasp drop-goal ensured the Chiefs did head home with some reward that day, but Baxter is keen to ensure there is no repeat showing this time around, particularly early on when Wasps prospered.

"The fact that we lost up there last season doesn't bother me too much. The fact that there were a few elements we did early in the game that weren't great does a bit,” added Baxter.

"We'll probably talk about those because I don't think we hit the pitch with quite the level of intensity that we needed to on the day. We'll talk about the need to be bang on from the first minute. They are a good side and you need to perform at your top level if you are going to win games like that and we didn't do that.”

Baxter continued: "We have had a good look at them and they are a good side, playing good rugby. It is going to be a good challenge but an exciting challenge.

"Given where we are in the league and with it being before back-to-back Champions Cup games, it is a very important game.

"The group will be excited about it and we are looking forward to going up there and challenging a club who are probably feeling pretty good about themselves right now.”

Team news for the Chiefs is Baxter is boosted by the news that skipper Jack Yeandle – who was forced off early during last weekend's win – has passed fit to start tomorrow.

Also back in harness are props Ben Moon and Tomas Francis, together with Geoff Parling in the second row and Sam Hill, who is preferred in the centre to Ian Whitten.

The big blows, however, are that back-row duo Don Armand and Dave Ewers are both missing, so experienced duo Tom Johnson and Julian Salvi come into the starting XV with Ben White added to the bench.

15 Phil Dollman
14 Jack Nowell
13 Henry Slade
12 Sam Hill
11 James Short
10 Gareth Steenson
9 Will Chudley
1 Ben Moon
2 Jack Yeandle (capt)
3 Tomas Francis
4 Mitch Lees
5 Geoff Parling
6 Tom Johnson
7 Julian Salvi
8 Thomas Waldrom

16 Elvis Taione
17 Carl Rimmer
18 Moray Low
19 Damian Welch
20 Ben White
21 Dave Lewis
22 Ian Whitten
23 Olly Woodburn

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