Ricky Pellow insists excitement is building inside the Exeter Chiefs camp ahead of Sunday’s Anglo-Welsh Cup final against Bath at Kingsholm (3pm).
Victory over an in-form Newcastle Falcons outfit last Sunday saw the Devonians march into a fourth successive final appearance in the competition – and Pellow is keen for his side to now finish the job against their nearest and dearest.
Triumphant on home soil in 2014 against Northampton Saints, the Chiefs have subsequently come unstuck against Saracens and Leicester Tigers in the past two finals.
It’s a statistic Pellow and his players are keen to address – with the Cornish coach insisting key lessons have been learnt from past experiences.
“We’ve been building nicely all week, not just the players who will be involved at the weekend, but also the non 23 have played their part as well,” said Pellow. “It’s another big occasion for the club, but one in which we know we have a job to do.
“Sunday will be our fourth final in a row in this competition, yet we’ve only won the competition once before. We’ve talked this week about learning from the past and now we’ll go to Gloucester and look to rip the game away from Bath.”
Buoyed by last weekend’s 20-17 victory over a strong Falcons outfit, the Chiefs will stick with a largely unchanged squad for Sunday’s showdown.
“If you look back to last Sunday, we were 17-7 down at half time and had it all to do,” continued Pellow. “In the past we may have been guilty of trying to over complicate things and force the game, but the pleasing thing for us as coaches was that the guys stuck to task and they didn’t panic.
“Emotionally, physically, they went about their job really well. We’ve talked a lot this week about just doing the same again this week against Bath. We know we have a game plan that can beat Bath, it’s just down to us to stick to it.”
Standing in the way of the Chiefs, however, will be Todd Blackadder’s side, who themselves are desperate to land their first piece of silverware in ten years. Like the Chiefs, they endured a hard-fought semi-final victory over Northampton, and they will be looking to pick off their Westcountry rivals in what should be a mouth-watering encounter.
“At this stage we’re not sure what sort of side Bath are going to put out, but whoever they select we know it’s going to be a tough side,” warned Pellow. “Whenever we have played them over the years, the games have always been hum-dingers. They’ve been us, we’ve beaten them, so I’m sure it’s going to be another close game.
“What will be the difference come the end is which side can deal with the pressure the best. We’re fortunate we’ve got a lot of good, experienced guys in our side, but if we are to win the game, it’s going to be the younger players who really need to step up. If they take a second to settle or look to see what is in front of them – or they are quiet and not talking – that can be the difference on the day. They need to be the glue which brings it all together for us.”
But as Pellow eluded to in this week’s media briefing, the Chiefs do have plenty of proven experience to call upon. Up front, international props Moray Low and Greg Holmes were the cornerstones of an outstanding scrummaging display against the Falcons, while behind there is the likes of Dave Dennis, Matt Kvesic, Julian Salvi and Kai Horstmann to call upon.
No.8 Horstmann is promoted back into the starting line-up for Sunday’s game and he will have the honour of skippering the Chiefs on this his 100th appearance for the club.
Behind the Exeter eight, the Chiefs go with a new-look half-back pairing of Will Chudley and Gareth Steenson, while the only other change sees Tom Hendrickson come into the midfield alongside former Bath favourite Ollie Devoto.
Pellow admits he likes the make-up of his side, which includes the experienced Horstmann, who is set to bring the curtain down on his professional career at the end of the current campaign.
“Kai will lead the side,” said Pellow. “He’s coming in for a reason. Not only does he lead from the front on the pitch, but off the field he is just as good. The players all have a lot of respect for him, as they do for the likes of Julian Salvi and Dave Dennis. Having those kind of on-field leaders is huge for us and will be key come the weekend.”
15 Santiago Cordero
14 Tom O’Flaherty
13 Tom Hendrickson
12 Ollie Devoto
11 James Short
10 Gareth Steenson
9 Will Chudley
1 Moray Low
2 Jack Innard
3 Greg Holmes
4 Toby Salmon
5 Dave Dennis
6 Matt Kvesic
7 Julian Salvi
8 Kai Horstmann (capt)
16 Paul Davis
17 James Kenny
18 Jack Owlett
19 Wilhelm Van der Sluys
20 James Freeman
21 Joe Snow
22 Sam Morley
23 Harry Strong