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Premiership Rugby

Chiefs side to face Tigers

Chiefs side to face Tigers

If 2010 was certainly a year to remember for the Exeter Rugby Club, then 2011 could be equally as satisfying as the Chiefs look to kick on in the Aviva Premiership Rugby.

Promoted back in May from the Championship, Rob Baxter's side have indeed settled in nicely to life in the top flight – recording five victories in ten starts – and demonstrating they are more than capable of tackling the elite of the English game.

The New Year, however, begins with arguably the toughest assignment the club could have wished for. Heading for a sold-out Sandy Park this Sunday (4.15pm) will be Richard Cockerill's nine-time Premiership champions Leicester Tigers.

It's a fixture, however, that has grabbed the attention of not only the watching public, but also the Chiefs, who themselves will be looking to avenge their 37-27 defeat by Leicester at Welford Road back in September.

That loss still hurts many at Exeter, especially as the visitors had threatened to pull off the biggest shock in Premiership history when they led 27-16 with just 15 minutes remaining. In the end, it was the experience and guile of the defending league champions which came to the fore and Cockerill's side fought back valiantly to thwart the league newcomers.

It was a bitter pill for the Chiefs – who headed home with nothing to show for their valiant efforts – to swallow, but at the same time it also served as a timely reminder of just how tough life another rung up the league ladder is.

"That was our second game in the Premiership and we've come a long way since then," said prop Hoani Tui. "We've learned a lot and I think all of us have improved immensely.

"Sunday will be a big test, not just for me, but the whole front row and the rest of the forward pack. Leicester are renowned for their good set-piece and good forward play, but hopefully the crowd can get behind us and we can do a job on Leicester."

Likewise head coach Baxter is aware of the Leicester threat and also the challenges which await during the second half of the season.

"We've got to be very realistic and honest with ourselves," said Baxter. "We've won some home games and an important away game [at Saracens]. However, the games that had to be won we've won at home.

"Those fixtures are now away from home and we'll have to go up there and play well to get some results. We've also got a lot of very good teams coming here to Sandy Park. We've gone away to some tough grounds and we've got the reverse of them now.

"It's going to be a very interesting second half of the season, but as long as we stay true to what we've been trying to do, which is to get better and now get dragged into worrying where the next league points are coming from, I think we'll be fine.

"Sunday's game has been sold out for a couple of months now and what that should tell us is that people want to come and watch us and that they are excited about what we're doing."

Having not played a Premiership fixture since their 24-12 defeat at Wasps, Baxter has since used the two Amlin Challenge Cup to not only run the rule over other members of his first team squad, but at the same time give some of his more frontline stars a well deserved break.

Sunday, however, he welcomes back an arsenal of big guns, including a new midfield partnership of Sireli Naqelevuki and Jason Shoemark, plus two changes in the front-row where Chris Whitehead and Tui are both handed starting roles.

On the bench, Academy youngster Dave Ewers is rewarded for some outstanding recent displays in the Cup, fly-half Gareth Steenson makes his return to first team duties following a knee injury sustained against London Irish in October, whilst Chad Slade gets the nod over Dave Gannon, who picked up a knock in training earlier this week

"Those guys got selected on form over the previous month's games and nothing has changed since last week," said Baxter. "We're running through with that group of players, they've had the benefit of a couple of weeks training together as well. The interesting thing for us will be who gets the benefit out of the last three weeks. Us for being well rested or Leicester for being battle-hardened?"

 

EXETER CHIEFS TEAM TO FACE LEICESTER TIGERS

 

15 Luke Arscott

14 Nic Sestaret

13 Jason Shoemark

12 Sireli Naqelevuki

11 Mark Foster

10 Ryan Davis

9 Haydn Thomas

1 Brett Sturgess

2 Chris Whitehead

3 Hoani Tui

4 Tom Hayes (capt)

5 James Hanks

6 Tom Johnson

7 James Scaysbrook

8 Richard Baxter

 

16 Simon Alcott

17 Ben Moon

18 Chris Budgen

19 Chad Slade

20 Dave Ewers

21 Junior Poluleuligaga

22 Gareth Steenson

23 Phil Dollman

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