Exeter forwards coach Rob Hunter says the Chiefs are fully prepared for the threat posed by Newcastle Falcons, who visit Sandy Park in tomorrow’s Aviva Premiership encounter (3pm).
Five weeks into the new season and the North East outfit have been the talk of the town, after a stunning start which has seen them net four victories from five starts to date.
Second in the table, level on points with leaders Northampton Saints, the Falcons fly South this weekend looking to add the scalp of the reigning champions, who themselves are looking for an instant pick-me-up following last weekend’s 20-13 defeat at Leicester Tigers.
Hunter and the Exeter coaching team have watched with interest the great strides made by Dean Richards’ side this season and have spent this past week instilling into their players the importance of producing a performance packed full of effort and intensity.
A fortnight ago [against Wasps] the Chiefs did just that, flattening their rivals with a ferocious five-try display that sent them to the summit of the table. Last week, however, Devon’s finest could not replicate the achievement, coming unstuck to the Tigers in their own den.
“Fair play to Tigers, they stopped us one or two areas and we weren’t able to turn our pressure into points,” explained Hunter. “Although we were in the game for long periods, we were perhaps guilty of turning over ball too much and making silly errors. As always, the effort and the energy were pretty good, but we did come away with the odd work-on for this week.”
As is often the case with the Chiefs, wins are never overly celebrated, whilst defeats are equally kept in check – and Hunter insists the mood within camp remains buoyant heading into tomorrow’s tussle.
“We didn’t say we were brilliant when we beat Wasps the other week – and it’s not the end of the world because we lost away at the Tigers,” added Hunter. “What we’ve talked about is being consistent and doing the basics well. As I said, we’re confident we are playing well and doing the right things, but sometimes you win games and sometimes you lose games.
“Right now, we know we’re not a million miles away from where we want to be. Last season, when we were losing games, we knew we weren’t quite on it, but that’s not how we are feeling this year! The energy and the commitment from the guys is there for all to see and as long as we have that, then we know come the end of the season we won’t be too far away.”
Tomorrow, though, the Chiefs will again need to be firing on all cylinders against a Falcons side, who Hunter says have been going about their business in an impressive way.
“They’ve been building for a while now, so I don’t think we should be overly surprised about how they are performing,” warned Hunter. “They’ve been together a long time, they have a settled squad and a settled coaching team which, as we’ve seen here, can make a big difference.
“As a group they’ve stuck at what they do for a while now and although they’ve not always had the results they wanted, they’ve persevered with their plan and now they are getting the rewards for that. You can see they are very together, they are scoring tries, they are working hard for one another and, most importantly, they are enjoying it.
“They are playing with real confidence and they are not getting too hung up if they make the odd error. We’re now five weeks into the season and they are not in the top two by accident. Yes, you get the odd freak result here and there, but they are up there because they’ve played well, defended well, and they’ve stuck at what they do well. Looking at them, they are a massive threat to us.”
Duly warned, the Chiefs themselves will take to the field primed and ready for tomorrow’s test, which provides the last competitive fixture of this opening Premiership block.
Ahead of kick-off, Director of Rugby Rob Baxter has made a number of changes to his squad. In the pack, Carl Rimmer and Harry Williams return in the front-row alongside skipper Jack Yeandle, who is set to make his 100th Premiership appearance for the club.
Behind, Sam Skinner and Sam Simmonds come into the back-row at the expense of Dave Dennis (rested) and Julian Salvi, who drops to the bench.
Aussie international Nic White is recalled at scrum-half, while the return of Jack Nowell on the right wing means Lachie Turner shunts back to full-back with Phil Dollman dropping to the bench, where he will be joined by Ben Moon who, if he appears at any stage tomorrow, will make his 150th league appearance.
15 Lachie Turner
14 Jack Nowell
13 Henry Slade
12 Ian Whitten
11 Olly Woodburn
10 Gareth Steenson
9 Nic White
1 Carl Rimmer
2 Jack Yeandle (capt)
3 Harry Williams
4 Mitch Lees
5 Jonny Hill
6 Sam Skinner
7 Don Armand
8 Sam Simmonds
16 Elvis Taione
17 Ben Moon
18 Tomas Francis
19 Ollie Atkins
20 Julian Salvi
21 Stu Townsend
22 Tom Hendrickson
23 Phil Dollman