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Welch: Exeter Chiefs are ready to re-take their Clermont test

The last time Exeter Chiefs met Clermont Auvergne at Sandy Park the French visitors gave their hosts a harsh lesson in the realities of European rugby.

But lock Damien Welch insists the Chiefs have come a long way since that 46-12 mauling three years ago and will prove it this weekend.

Welch was a second-half substitute in that clash and has been a key figure in a Chiefs side that have begun to establish themselves as a real force in Aviva Premiership Rugby.

Young stars like Jack Nowell and Henry Slade have become England internationals while the likes of Thomas Waldrom and Geoff Parling have added some much-needed experience.

And Welch is confident the  squad is now much better equipped to deal with the current Top 14 league leaders ahead of this weekend’s huge Pool 2 clash.

“Rob (Baxter) and Ali (Hepher) have been pretty good in adding to the squad year on year,” Welch said.

“In areas where there might have been slight weaknesses we now have areas of perceived strength. It has been a good building process, which has been really well managed.

“From my point of view, since I’ve been here you can see how the squad has grown, not just in terms of size but also in the quality and calibre of the guys we’re bringing in.

“We’ve got guys in there now who are fully-fledged internationals, England internationals, and a British and Irish Lion.

“So when you look at that you’ve got to say the standards of things here are really starting to go up.”

After losing the first game of the season to Bath Rugby, the Chiefs have gone on to win five consecutive games in Aviva Premiership Rugby and are hot on the tails of last year’s winners Saracens.

Similarly in the European Rugby Champions Cup the Devon outfit lost their first game of the competition away at the Ospreys but bounced back with a bonus-point win at home to Bordeaux-Begles.

And former Scarlets lock Welch believes his side cannot take anything for granted before their game with Clermont – who have been in two of the last three European finals.

“We’re fully aware we didn’t do ourselves justice in our first game against the Ospreys and then a few things went better against Bordeaux,” Welch said.

“So from our point of view it’s a good chance for us to try to hit the ground running.

“You can’t assume Clermont aren’t going to travel well. They are a team that has always been there or thereabouts but have never actually got over the final hurdle in the European Cup.

“I think they probably treat every game as a huge game so we will certainly not be underestimating them in any way at all.”

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