Exeter Chiefs lock Ollie Atkins admits his side will be desperate to bounce back from their European set-back when they take on Sale Sharks this weekend.
Rob Baxter’s side were on the wrong end of a 42-10 result at French giants Clermont Auvergne, but play in their first ever Boxing Day clash in Aviva Premiership Rugby having lost just one of their last eight encounters in the competition.
Exeter have undeniably been one of the sides to beat in the league this season, and the second-placed outfit have lost just once in all competitions at Sandy Park since September 2014.
However Atkins knows his side may be under some pressure in front of an expectant Boxing Day crowd against a tricky Sale side.
“It is a big game for us this weekend – the boys are looking to bounce back after a bit of a loss over in Clermont,” he said.
“It will be a great atmosphere here on Boxing Day – it is pretty much sold out from what I hear, so we’ll look to put in a good performance and get back to the fortress that is Sandy Park.
“We absolutely want to finish on a high at home. Rob has always said that we build at home and what we do here is incredibly important we want to keep our good record going and add to it when we play on Boxing Day.
“Sale have got a really good set-piece and they like to spoil your clean set-piece. We’re going to have to be on our game to put in a good performance and set a platform for the backs.
“Hopefully they can then attack and find some opportunities.”
Each side won its respective home game when the two clubs met in Aviva Premiership Rugby last season, but Sale’s only previous win at Sandy Park came in April 2014 when they won 55-12 – the Chiefs’ biggest reversal at the venue.
And given the magnitude of the task that lies ahead, Sharks hooker Neil Briggs insists Christmas has been put on hold for Steve Diamond’s side.
He said: “We’ve already spoken as a group and our Christmas starts after the Wasps game.
“We’ve got a week away from the league on the weekend of January 8 as our scheduled game with Bath has been cancelled so our Christmas and New Year comes after the Wasps game.
“So as a squad we’ve said let’s knuckle down and let’s do the hard work now.
“Obviously there’s a bit of a sacrifice involved with the family but they know that rugby comes first but after these two big two games then it will be time to spend with the family.
“What’s important for us now is do well in these two big games as we know if we do that we can be up near the top four.
“We are playing teams which are just above so it could be an eight point swing.”
(Sandy Park, 3pm)
Referee: Dean Richards (83rd Premiership game).
Assistant Referees: Luke Pearce & Andrew Pearce. TMO: Geoff Warren.