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Premiership Rugby

Steenson relishing Irish clash

Steenson relishing Irish clash

Exeter Chiefs will return to Aviva Premiership action this weekend at London Irish determined to maintain their impressive form of recent weeks.

Three victories out of their last four league games has helped to propel Rob Baxter's side up the table and although they currently sit ninth in the standings, the league newcomers are just four points adrift of fifth-placed Bath.

Three points further ahead are Northampton Saints, a side the Chiefs saw off comfortably 30-9 in their last Premiership outing at Sandy Park. That success was over two weeks ago and now the fully recharged Chiefs are looking to pick up from where they left off at the Madejski Stadium this Saturday.

Hoping to lead the visiting charge will be the club's leading points scorer this term, Gareth Steenson, who has now collected 173 points in all competitions. The Irishman has been in prime form in recent weeks and will be hoping to sink the Exiles with another polished performance.

"We had a good outcome to that last block of games," said the Dungannon-born back. "The way we finished [against Saints] was particularly pleasing and showed how far we have come as a club. Out of the four games we only that one loss to against Bath – and that was only by three points on the night – so it shows we're not too far off. As I said, it was a good run of results and I think it will stand us in good stead leading into the rest of the season."

With the Chiefs now poised to face three successive aways trips, Leeds Carnegie and Bath following the Irish meeting, Steenson is well aware he and his team-mates will need to be fully focused on the task ahead as the season enters into it's final straight.

"We're well aware we have to concentrate on playing well on a week to week basis," said the former Rotherham and Cornish Pirates fly-half. "If we can pick up points on the road and if we can keep our home form going the way it has been, that will be key to how we end up come the end of the season. As a group we know we have to focus on every game and all that starts this weekend up at London Irish.

"Going away to grounds is a challenge, of course, but we have won on the road a few times this season. We won at Saracens, which was a terrific result, and we've gone as far as Newcastle and won, so there is no reason why we can't continue to do that."

As Steenson knows, however, Irish – won won the corresponding fixture in Devon 12-9 back in October – will be a force on their own turf.

"They have threats all over the field and they are a quality side," he added. "If you look at them they have pace in their backs and up front they have got a hard nosed pack of forwards. We're aware we have got to front up first and foremost, then when we get an opportunity out wide hopefully we'll attack with lots of endeavour and things will go well."

A strong finish to the season is something the Chiefs are keen to ensure, particularly after defying many of the pre-season media predictions that had the Devon club nailed on for an instant return to the Championship.

"If you had given us this position at the start we would have snatched at it," admitted Steenson. "That said, we have learnt a lot as the season has gone and we've looked to get better and better. All season we've not really focused on where we are in the league or how many points we have got, we've tended instead to just focus on ourselves and how we perform.

"For sure we are a much better side than that which took to the field in the first game against Gloucester, so that's a massive thing for us, but we want to keep building and getting stronger and that's why we want to finish this season as strongly as we can.

"Obviously this weekend is another hurdle for us to overcome. It's going to be a great game because it's going to be Irish's St Patrick's Day celebrations and they'll have a massive crowd in, but if you were to ask any of the boys, especially us Irish fellas, it's just another game and we have to get on with it and do our best to get the right result."

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