Exeter Chiefs coach Ricky Pellow has described Sunday’s Anglo-Welsh Cup clash with Cardiff Blues as a ‘must-win’ encounter if the Devon club harbour any hopes of qualification to the latter stages.
Undone a week ago at Harlequins 29-15, the Chiefs return to home soil this weekend determined to not only bounce back from that result, but also rediscover their winning formula after a testing few weeks of results across the board.
As is the case in this tournament, the Devon club are not afraid to let youth have it’s chance and blooded a handful of academy graduates off the bench a week ago.
This Sunday a number of them again get their chance to shine against the Welsh region with Billy Keast and Joe Simmonds, both of whom came off the bench against Harlequins, set to start this Round Two encounter alongside Exeter University prop Jack Owlett, who is poised to make his senior debut at tight-head.
Waiting in the wings hoping to also get their first senior call-ups will be the likes of Will Norton, Marcus Street, Josh Caulfield and Harvey Skinner.
For Pellow, a man who has helped to play a significant role in the development of the club’s young talent, he sees the emergence of this group as a huge positive for the future and believes they will only get better by being exposed to the demands of senior rugby at the top end.
“Obviously the result last week has made this game a little bit bigger,” said Pellow. “Yes, you could say it’s a must-win game for us, but I think even if we had won up at Harlequins, we’d still be saying the same this week because not only do we need to get a victory, but we’re at home and it’s important we put in a big performance.
“Last week we went up to Quins’ and tried to rip the game away from them, but sadly it didn’t go our way and we ended up losing. Performance wise I thought we played well for periods of the game and we created a good number of opportunities.
“In the past we’ve lost one game and gone onto win the next two to qualify, so hopefully we can bang in a good result this weekend and put ourselves right back in the mix.
“Cardiff, we know, will be a tough game and I’m sure they will come down here with a mixed up side, a bit like us, and have young guys out there who will be looking to impress and who will be full of energy. As I said, we need to get a result to get us back in it because although Sale and Worcester [who are in our group] won last week, they still have to play Harlequins and a few other teams.”
As well as offering youth it’s chance, Pellow’s options have been bolstered by the fact that Phil Dollman’s knee injury is not as bad as first feared and he is able to again take his place at full-back.
The Welshman will line-up in a much-changed back division which sees Tom Hendrickson and Italian international Michele Campagnaro form a new midfield partnership, Max Bodilly is retained on the right wing, while Ian Whitten comes in on the left flank. At half-back, Joe Simmonds is promoted from the bench to fill the void left by Will Hooley, who is still feeling the effects of his heavy hit from Mat Luamanu, while Will Chudley takes over at scrum-half for his first start since the home game with Gloucester.
Changes up front see Keast and Owlett come into the front-row for their first starts, Damian Welch is recalled to the second-row, while Sam Simmonds gets his first outing of the season in the back-row where he teams up with Ben White and skipper Tom Johnson.
On paper it looks another strong Exeter line-up that will take to the field, but Pellow knows matches are not won on the team sheet, but more so on the field and he’s told his players they have to be ready for a battle.
“We’ve talked a lot this week about the good and the bad of last week’s game,” continued the Cornishman. “We know our penalty count was far too high and also that some of the work around the breakdown needed to be better. However, a lot of what we did in the game was very pleasing and we’ve talked this week about building on the positives.
“The boys have trained very well this week and I know they are all looking forward to getting out there and putting in a big performance. For the young guys especially it’s a big opportunity for them. Yes, it will be nerve-racking because they are at home and playing in front of a big crowd, but at the same time they will learn so much from the day.
“Already you can see someone like Joe Simmonds is improving all the time. Having him playing regularly down at Plymouth has really developed his game and he’s come on really well. With Will [Hooley] going off early last week, he came on and really stepped up to the plate – and again this week we’ve asked a lot of him in terms of him leading the side and being a lot more vocal, so we’re looking forward to seeing how he goes as well as all the other young guys.”
Ahead of kick-off on Sunday, the Chiefs will be staging a special Remembrance Service on the pitch and have reminded all supporters attending the game to get into their ticketed areas in plenty of time to avoid any disruption.
CHIEFS SIDE TO FACE CARDIFF BLUES
15 Phil Dollman
14 Max Bodilly
13 Michele Campagnaro
12 Tom Hendrickson
11 Ian Whitten
10 Joe Simmonds
9 Will Chudley
1 Billy Keast
2 Shaun Malton
3 Jack Owlett
4 Ollie Atkins
5 Damian Welch
6 Ben White
7 Sam Simmonds
8 Tom Johnson (capt)
16 Jack Innard
17 Will Norton
18 Marcus Street
19 Josh Caulfield
20 Tom Lawday
21 Stuart Townsend
22 Harvey Skinner
23 Harry Strong