Exeter Chiefs centre Phil Dollman insists this weekend’s clash with London Irish is the acid test to determine whether his side have serious ambitions of qualifying again for the Heineken Cup.
Looking to repeat last season’s fifth-place finish to secure another European berth, the Chiefs have won all four of their games at Sandy Park but are yet to win away in the Aviva Premiership.
And with a trip to the Madejski Stadium up next off the back of an away victory in the LV= Cup, Dollman believes a victory over the Exiles is paramount given the testing winter schedule ahead.
“The Heineken Cup is what you want to compete in and every Premiership game is massive,” said Dollman. “The way we have started the season we have given ourselves a platform to build on for the rest of it.
“This weekend is crucial in pushing on to the top spots in the league and this next period over Christmas and January is massive in terms of getting points on the board and getting up the league.
“We just need our intensity to match whatever they throw at us, they have the quality and always have done and they will test us.
“But we can match that and hopefully our patterns and defence will look after itself and put us in a strong position to win the game.”
But they received a timely boost in midweek as Joe Ansbro returned to training after recovering from a broken neck, good news that spread through the squad throughout the week.
And No. 8 Alex Gray revealed that was just the news his side needed, adding an extra incentive to get their third league victory of the season against Exeter on Sunday.
"Joe came in on Tuesday to see everyone and it was great for the boys to see him and to have him back in and around the club," he said.
"Joe is a great guy not just as a rugby player but as a person as well so it is a boost to have him back at the club.
"Having him around makes a big difference to the team and we are just glad he is here.
"Not having him in the side has obviously been a blow for us because you can't really replace someone like Joe – he is a great international and defensively he is excellent.
"I am not sure what the situation is with him coming back to play. Obviously no-one is looking to rush him at all and he'll take it slowly and take his time and when he is ready, he's ready."