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Preview: Harlequins v Exeter Chiefs

Preview: Harlequins v Exeter Chiefs

Exeter boss Rob Baxter has called for calm from his squad ahead of their Aviva Premiership Rugby visit to Harlequins this weekend after a memorable few days for the Chiefs.

Baxter’s men emerged victorious from the clash with fellow play-off hopefuls Wasps last weekend and are now in pole position to finish second and claim a home semi-final.

While just days later the club’s second-string claimed the A League trophy at Sandy Park against Northampton.

Fast-forward to this weekend though and Exeter must go and beat Harlequins at the Stoop to guarantee second position in the Premiership, with Wasps likely to claim maximum points from their clash with bottom club London Irish in Coventry.

The Chiefs last eight fixtures in the tournament have all been won by the home side on the day, with the Devonians most recent away victory being at London Irish in round 13.

But they have won their last three fixtures against Harlequins and have been victorious on their last two visits to Twickenham Stoop.

“The important thing for me is for us to lock ourselves down as quickly as we can and get ready for a big game,” said the head coach.

“The whole squad feels in a pretty good place after Sunday’s win and Monday’s A League success too, but we have to get our feet back on the ground after a pretty short turn-around and get re-energised and re-focused for what is a very important game.

“Harlequins are trying to cement a place in the top six, which is a very important target in the Premiership.

“It is Conor O’Shea’s last game as well, so there are some factors we need to square up to and overcome.

“Second is not the be-all and end-all – I certainly think we can go away and win.

“We have shown we can go away and put in quality performances, like Wasps for example.

“I don’t think we should be putting massive pressure on ourselves to get a home semi-final. We are already in the semi-finals and we need to remember that.”

Ahead of kick-off, Baxter has rotated his playing options from that of a week ago against Wasps.

Up front, Alec Hepburn and Jack Yeandle come into the front-row, Damian Welch is added to the second-row, while an elbow injury to Don Armand means Thomas Waldrom returns at No.8. Behind the pack, Sam Hill – who came off the bench against Wasps – is given the nod over Ian Whitten in the centre, while James Short is recalled on the wing with Olly Woodburn dropping down to the bench.

Harlequins require a bonus point victory to guarantee their place in the Champions Cup next season, although they could also qualify if they win the Challenge Cup next week.

The Londoners only defeat in the last five fixtures in all competitions was to Saracens at Wembley in round 20 of Aviva Premiership Rugby.

The game is likely to be emotionally-charged for Quins, with long-standing boss O’Shea completing his final fixture at the London club’s helm before taking charge of Italy.

There are eight changes to the starting team that played London Irish last week. Mike Brown starts at full-back with Ross Chisholm moving to the wing.

In the centres Winston Stanley and Jamie Roberts combine as Nick Evans is named at fly-half.

In the forwards, Dave Ward comes into the front row alongside Mark Lambert and Will Collier, with George Merrick and Charlie Matthews making up the second-row. Chris Robshaw returns to the back-row and is named with Nick Easter and Jack Clifford.

And centre Joe Marchant – who will be on the bench this weekend – insists Quins are ready to go to war.

“They might have their semi-final spot already in hand but we know that they won’t let up and they were obviously very impressive against Wasps,” he said.

“We know that they will continue to play their rugby the way they want to and they are similar to us that they like to play an expansive game.

“That means that it should be a good game and even though it will be tough we are hoping to sign off at home in style and we are all determined to get that top-six spot.

“Everyone wants to win and send Conor off in the best possible way so that should help us out on Saturday.

“It will be a big occasion and he deserves to go off in style so hopefully that can spur us on the get the result.”

Referee: Wayne Barnes (169th Premiership game).
Assistant Referees: Paul Burton & Nigel Carrick. TMO: Sean Davey.

Twickenham Stoop – Live on BT Sport

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