Rob Baxter has challenged his Exeter Chiefs side to build on last week’s away win at Newcastle Falcons with an equally strong display against visiting Worcester Warriors in the Aviva Premiership tomorrow (4:30pm).
The Chiefs returned to winning ways in the top flight with a powerful display up in the North East, not only collecting their first league win since September, but also accruing all five points thanks to Will Chudley’s late try against his former club.
This weekend the Devonians will be looking to continue their upturn in form against the Warriors, who have won just once in the league this season and lie just a place above basement club Bristol.
Unlike the Chiefs, Carl Hogg’s side were narrowly undone on their last outing against Northampton Saints, where the boot of Stephen Myler proved the telling difference on the night, this despite the home side outscoring the Saints 2-0 on the try chart.
With an unchanged starting line-up, Baxter is backing those who prospered at Kingston Park to not only pick up from where they left off a week ago, but at the same time look to further enhance their claims to be amongst the division’s frontrunners.
“Newcastle have been playing well this season, especially at home, so to go there and get a bonus point win was a fantastic result for us,” said Baxter. “We knew it would be a challenge going up there, but we want our players to be challenged in as many as they can week by week.
“Yes, we made some mistakes on the night which perhaps made the end result a bit tighter than we wanted, but did the players show some good qualities? Did they fight through the tough moments? Did they show a lot of spirit to stick to a game plan and drive things home and become stronger through the game? Yes, they did all of those things, so for me there were far more positives than negatives to come out of the game.
“In a funny way, sometimes it’s a positive to know the opposition got some of their points in a way that we know we should have dealt with. It’s meant we’ve been able to work on certain areas of our game, even though a lot of what we did on the day was very, very good.”
And it’s that quest to keep improving all the time that Baxter believes continues to drive standards up amongst the Sandy Park playing staff.
“We’ve looked at last week and now we’re not looking too much further than Worcester this weekend,” continued Baxter. “Right now we are a Premiership team that I feel are up and running. If you look at the combined results of every team over the last five or six rounds, we’re right up there as one of the form teams and that’s despite a late loss here against Bath.
“Looking at things, we’re going OK and we’re starting to get to the levels we need to be. At the same time, we’re still accelerating and we’re far from peaking, which is important. Each week the players are getting better the more they play together, plus we’re starting to get a number of players returning from injury as well, so we’re expecting and we’re demanding that we get better and we improve.
“I’ve said to the guys, I want us to get more intense, more passionate and more emotional about things game by game. That’s what I want to see and when I look at this group if players, I can see they want to drive our season ahead in a really exciting way.”
Last week’s win momentarily lifted the Chiefs back into the top four, only for Leicester to leapfrog them on Sunday with their home win over Harlequins. However, another victory against the Warriors and Baxter’s side can again be looking pretty after nine rounds of domestic battle.
“We’ve had eight games already and we’ve still not had a four point win,” said Baxter. “Obviously it would have been lovely to have had that against Bath, but that aside we’ve either won with five points or we’ve picked up losing bonus points or even a try bonus in the draw we had here with Gloucester.
“As we know from past seasons, if you have a good season it can be down to the points collected when they are on offer. So far we’ve picked up a few bonus points along the way and it’s kept us where we are. It’s given us a foundation from which to climb, week by week, day by day, and it gives us the opportunity to be where we want to be at the end of the season.”
Standing in the way this weekend, however, will be a Worcester side minus centre Ben Te’o who is on England duty, skipper GJ Van Velze and also hooker Niall Annett and fly-half Ryan Lamb, both of whom are set for extended spells on the sidelines through injury. That said, Kiwi winger Bryce Heem marked his return to action after six months out with a try last week and will be a man the Chiefs will have to monitor closely.
“Worcester are a very good side and we’re well aware of the threats that can pose,” warned Baxter. “Yes, they’ll be frustrated with a few close results this season, none more so than last week against Northampton, so they’ll come here relatively confident and looking to cause us one or two problems.
“What we have to make sure is that our confidence and our work-rate exceeds them. You could say every game is like that, but we know we will have to come out fully prepared to work our socks off, give everything and show that mental toughness you need to win a tough game of Premiership rugby.”
Aside from an unchanged starting XV, which includes former Worcester favourite Kai Horstmann, Baxter’s only changes in personnel see Dave Ewers return on the bench in place of Ben White, while Sam Hill is also back on duty and replaces Lachie Turner.
15 Phil Dollman
14 Olly Woodburn
13 Ollie Devoto
12 Ian Whitten
11 James Short
10 Gareth Steenson (capt)
9 Will Chudley
1 Ben Moon
2 Jack Yeandle
3 Harry Williams
4 Mitch Lees
5 Jonny Hill
6 Dave Dennis
7 Kai Horstmann
8 Thomas Waldrom
16 Shaun Malton
17 Carl Rimmer
18 Greg Holmes
19 Geoff Parling
20 Dave Ewers
21 Jack Maunder
22 Joe Simmonds
23 Sam Hill