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LV= Cup preview: Newport Gwent Dragons v Exeter Chiefs

Rob Baxter loves nothing more than having his Exeter Chiefs side in charge of their own destiny and the head coach insists a win this weekend will ensure such privilege will remain with them as they bid to qualify for another LV= Cup semi-final.

The Chiefs, LV= Cup champions in 2014, began their title defence in strong fashion back in November, beating Gloucester Rugby in the first round of fixtures 28-27, before humbling Bath Rugby 18-6 the following weekend.

Despite experiencing a rough patch of form in Aviva Premiership Rugby – a 28-26 defeat to London Irish last time out was their fourth consecutive loss – Baxter’s men are still well placed in fifth.

Consecutive European victories over the last two weekends have also secured a European Challenge Cup quarter-final, while a win over Newport Gwent Dragons on Saturday would go a long way to securing progression from Pool 4 in the LV= Cup too.

Former Dragons pair Ceri Sweeney and Adam Hughes both start, with Sweeney captaining the side at fly-half, while Tom Johnson, Brett Sturgess and Elvis Taione add experience up front. 

But with a host of young talent also included, such as flanker Sam Simmonds and full-back Max Bodilly, Baxter expects many to lay a marker down for selection throughout the rest of the season.

“It’s nice to have your future in competitions in your own hands, and that’s where things are at the moment,” said Baxter.

“It’s going to be great to see a group of players who have not had as much game time as they would like play against Newport.

“And it will be great to see guys like Fetu’u Vainikolo, Tom James, Ceri Sweeney and Byron McGuigan running around and getting an opportunity to get the ball in their hands and play.

“At the same time it will also be great to see some of the younger guys we think are improving and coming through – guys like Sam Simmonds, Max Bodilly and Stu Townsend – and this is a great competition for them.

“A lot of what you would call our front-line players now have come through playing some very important LV= Cup games for us and it’s been a real testing ground for them.

“It’s going to be an important competition to get us, as a squad, up and running and playing very well for the return to the Aviva Premiership.”

Exeter though aren’t the only side going well in the LV= Cup – the Dragons themselves having recovered from an opening loss to Harlequins by beating Ospreys 51-35 away from home.

It is the first time in this year’s competition that the Welsh side will have played at Rodney Parade and they will mark such an occasion by giving a debut to centre Carl Meyer.

The South African, earning a run out in midfield to compensate for the loss of Tyler Morgan, Pat Leach and Ross Wardle to international duty and injuries respectively, will also hopefully be joined by the returning Ashley Smith.

And Dragons director of rugby Lyn Jones insists this competition is perfect for the likes of Meyer and a host of younger talent, who will need the experience to progress as players.   

“Carl will be involved against Exeter, he has shown up well in training and we need to see him play,” said Jones.
“We’ve learnt this season that five centres is not enough and we need to have six in our squad next year.

“The LV= Cup is a great opportunity to see every single player play, what we are looking to develop here is competition within the squad.

“Previously there have been just 15 players to pick from at the Dragons and we are looking to increase that to 20 to 25 players so that no matter who plays you get a very good standard of rugby.”

Tickets for this year's LV= Cup Final on 22 March at Franklin's Gardens are now on sale. Click here to snap one up from just £20 for adults, £10 for juniors to see who will win the first silverware of the season.

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