Exeter Chiefs name side to face Bath Rugby
Ricky Pellow says Exeter Chiefs must make the most of home advantage in this next fortnight, if they are to keep alive their dreams of retaining the Premiership Rugby Cup.
The holders kicked off their campaign with a 22-22 draw away to Newcastle Falcons last Sunday, a result which – according to skills coach Pellow – offered both positives and negatives for the Devon club when he was picked through by the coaching team this week.
Down 22-10 entering into the final quarter at Kingston Park, the Chiefs dug deep into their reserves to fashion a determined fightback that yielded two tries and – for a split second – almost a priceless victory in the North East.
In the end, Pellow’s side had to settle for a share of the spoils, meaning there is now greater emphasis on tomorrow’s visit of Bath to Sandy Park (1pm) and that of Harlequins a week later.
“The message from us as coaches is that we let ourselves down on Sunday in terms of how we normally play, so we have a big opportunity in the next couple of games to really drive on,” said Pellow. “To come back and get the draw was really pleasing, but after going through the game and analysing it, we came away a little disappointed with a few things.
“Looking at it this week, we weren’t quite there in and around the breakdown – and it’s been the same in the Champions Cup for us as well. Because we like to play multi-phase rugby, teams are going to attack us around the breakdown to try and slow us down. We’ve been perhaps guilty of taking our foot off the gas a little bit in terms of our ball placement and our fight on the floor. That said, we’ve talked a lot about that as a squad this week and hopefully we’ll see a difference there at the weekend.”
But whilst the breakdown was a concern for the Chiefs, other areas of the team continue to flourish and despite the introduction of a number of players into the ranks, the usual Exeter game plan was by and large impressive against the Falcons.
“Yes, there were one or two areas that we’ve had to work on this week, but there were also a lot of positives we could take from the game,” added Pellow. “I thought we showed massive character to get back into the game last week, not just to force the draw, but in the end we could potentially have won the game at the end.
“For us it was good to see those senior guys – some of whom needed that game time – really come together with some of the younger academy players. I’ve no doubt the more they play together, the more consistency they will start to show in their performances. Yes, there were one or two teething problems, but what I liked was the way in which the senior guys really took hold of the group and drove the principles around attack and defence that we ask of the players.”
More of the same will be asked of the Chiefs this weekend as they prepare to welcome a Bath outfit, who themselves were left licking their wounds following a 27-19 loss at home to Harlequins last weekend.
In what has been a tough campaign so far for the Blue, Black & Whites – they have won just twice in nine starts – Pellow acknowledges the visitors will arrive at Sandy Park determined to get their season back on track, as well as gain a modicum of revenge for their defeat to the Chiefs in the final of this competition last March.
“Bath are a quality side and they’ll be tough at the weekend,” warned Pellow. “We’ve looked at them this week, but the majority of our focus has been on ourselves and making sure we get our game plan into place. Right now there’s not too much pressure on us, but come the game itself I am sure that will change a little bit.
“We’ve got two big home games coming up now in this competition and we have to make the most of them. We have talked about being back-to-back champions and just how we can go about doing that. Not many sides have backed up a win in this competition with a win afterwards. It is a massive challenge for the club and the players and one I know they are excited about – it is exciting to be involved in it.
“We talk about how we approach each game, so if we approach this one in the right way then we will be in prime position to push on from there.”
Ahead of kick-off, the Chiefs have tinkered with their line-up from a week ago. In the pack, Jack Innard, Sean Lonsdale and James Freeman are all brought into the fray, while behind the back division is boosted by the inclusion of former Bath favourite Ollie Devoto, as well as Jack Maunder, James Short and Joe Simmonds.
Injuries to Olly Woodburn (hamstring) and Toby Salmon (foot) mean they miss out this weekend, but on the bench the sight of Wales and British Lions winger Alex Cuthbert returning is another boost for the home side.
15 Joe Simmonds
14 Tom O’Flaherty
13 Tom Hendrickson
12 Ollie Devoto
11 James Short
10 Harvey Skinner
9 Jack Maunder
1 Moray Low
2 Jack Innard
3 Greg Holmes (capt)
4 Sean Lonsdale
5 Wilhelm Van Der Sluys
6 Josh Caulfield
7 James Freeman
8 Tom Lawday
16 Elvis Taione
17 Billy Keast
18 Marcus Street
19 Richard Capstick
20 Onehunga Kaufusi
21 Sam Maunder
22 Max Bodilly
23 Alex Cuthbert