TOP BAR - Fixtures

Chiefs side to face Worcester Warriors

Exeter Chiefs head coach Rob Baxter insists his side must take full advantage of home comforts as they look to book a place in the Aviva Premiership play-offs for the first time in the club’s history.

With just four rounds of the scheduled season, the Chiefs – who lie second in the standings – have two home and two away fixtures in which to tie down one of the key top four spots.

The first of those four tests comes tomorrow when the Devon club play host to in-form Worcester Warriors at Sandy Park (3pm).

And it’s a fixture Baxter is clearly relishing as he looks to get his team back on track following their 36-18 loss to league leaders Saracens last time out.

"It’s all very exciting," said Baxter. "We’re in second place at the business end of the season and it’s certainly better being one off the top than being off the bottom!

"We’re comfortable with where we are, but at the same time we must make sure that our league position and the excitement of what is potentially there for us – or what can potentially be takes from us, doesn’t actually detract from our level of performance. That’s the key thing at this stage, it’s about us really concentrating on our level of performance and whatever happens over these next four games, we at least come away being proud of what we have put out on the rugby field."

Indeed, keeping fully focused at this crucial stage of the season is what Baxter and his fellow coaches have spent this past week driving into their players.

"The reality is for to guarantee top four, we have to win games of rugby," added the Chiefs’ leader. "And if we want a home semi-final, again we have to win games of rugby. As things stand we have two home and two away to play, so first and foremost you have to target your home games if you have any ambition to do either of those things."

Dean Ryan’s Worcester, however, will be no pushovers as they look to extend their own Premiership record of four successive top flight victories.

"They are one of the form teams in the division," warned Baxter. "The games they have won recently, they have deserved to win. They are showing some good qualities and they are looking comfortable. I kind of said that at the start of the season because quite quickly they looked comfortable with what they were trying to do. They weren’t always executing everything they did, but you could see there was a pattern there and they didn’t fall apart as a side.

"Obviously what is happening now is they are reaping the rewards of sticking at that process and they are improving week by week. They are getting up to speed in the Premiership and adding different things to their game. They will be a fantastic challenge for us this weekend.

"As I said, they have won enough games now that they can come here with not too much to lose, so that in itself makes them very dangerous, so we will have to work very hard to maintain the quality of the home performances we have put in this season."

With just one home defeat all season – that was to defending champions Saracens – the Chiefs will be looking to maintain their strong foothold at Sandy Park.

Baxter added: "I keep saying to the players the games will run out thick and fast, so now is the time to enjoy yourself and capitalise on the things you’ve done so far. We are very much focusing on ourselves and the positives and not really worrying about what it is going to take for us to make the top four or the top two. I just want us to get out there and enjoy each game."

Certainly the Chiefs will be buoyed this weekend by the return of England Grand Slam winner Jack Nowell, who missed last week’s encounter with Saracens. The Cornishman is one of six changes to the home side, lining up in a back division which also includes the recalled Will Chudley.

Up front, Ben Moon and Moray Low are added to prop up Luke Cowan-Dickie in the front-row, while Ollie Atkins and Don Armand are also included from the outset with Geoff Parling and Dave Ewers sitting this weekend out.

On the bench, there is a welcome return for Mitch Lees, who is included in a Chiefs squad for the first time since New Year’s Day, as well as returning backs Michele Campagnaro and James Short.

"Little by little we’re looking stronger," said Baxter. "Last week we had Damian Welch back for the first time in a while, Sladey’s up and running and now we’ve got Nowellsy back from international duty and Mitch Lees fully fit again after injury."

15 Phil Dollman
14 Jack Nowell
13 Henry Slade
12 Ian Whitten
11 Olly Woodburn
10 Gareth Steenson (capt)
9 Will Chudley

1 Ben Moon
2 Luke Cowan-Dickie
3 Moray Low
4 Ollie Atkins
5 Damian Welch
6 Don Armand
7 Julian Salvi
8 Thomas Waldrom

16 Jack Yeandle
17 Alec Hepburn
18 Harry Williams
19 Mitch Lees
20 Kai Horstmann
21 Dave Lewis
22 Michele Campagnaro
23 James Short

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