Exeter Chiefs name side to face Wasps
Rob Baxter has challenged his Exeter Chiefs to ‘step up again’ ahead of tomorrow’s Gallagher Premiership trip to Wasps.
Having kicked off their campaign with a notable 40-6 home win over Leicester Tigers a week ago, Baxter’s side now travel to the Ricoh Arena (2pm) for what is notoriously a testing away-day for any visiting side.
Just once before – that was in December 2015, when they won 41-27 – have the Chiefs emerged victorious from a trip to Coventry – and it’s a statistic Director of Rugby Baxter is keen to address in Round Two of this season’s competition.
“I’m pleased with how the guys have shaped up this week after what was a hard and bruising encounter against Leicester,” said Baxter. “That was a good start for us, but we know we need to step up again and not rest on our laurels.
“Traditionally, going to the Ricoh is a tough place to go and we’ve only won their once in the past. That said, I think it’s a great challenge for us and one that has allowed us to immediately focus the minds on this weekend.
“Like ourselves, Wasps will be feeling pretty good about themselves having started with a win at Worcester. What people don’t tend to realise is that away wins, especially in these first couple of rounds, are very difficult to achieve. Teams are still getting up to speed, squads are pretty full and fresh, so you have to give them a lot of credit for coming through like they did.
“We know from our own experiences over the years that winning away first up is not easy, but they’ve done that and now they are coming into this weekend at home with four points already on the board. The flip side of that, however, is if we can get a win ourselves we would have beaten Leicester and Wasps in the opening two weeks and we will be feeling pretty good as you’d expect both of those sides to be challenging in and around the top of the league.”
Certainly, the Chiefs underlined against the Tigers that they are primed and ready for the season ahead, producing a performance that not only yielded six tries on the day, but spelt the end of the road for Leicester Director of Rugby, Matt O’Connor.
Naturally, Baxter was delighted with his side’s endeavour, paying particular tribute to the work ethic of his players.
“With pre-season you never really know where you stand,” said Baxter. “As good as pre-season felt and how hard we felt the players had worked, we were all waiting to see where everybody else stood as well. When you look at the Leicester side last week, there were threats everywhere, and we knew we could not take anything for granted.
“At the same time, people will say we win a lot of games at Sandy Park, we’re a good side here, and that we should be able to continue that. Sadly, it doesn’t work like that and it’s all about the hard work you put in training, the prep and, ultimately, the day itself. For me, the biggest credit I can give our lads was how hard they were willing to work.
“Even when we were six points down in that first half, they didn’t let it affect how they wanted to play or how hard they were willing to work. They didn’t take kicks at goal, they kept the pressure on, they kept possession, and they never stopped working. What that created was an 80-minute performance that broke Leicester down.
“Over time we’ve been good at producing those sorts of performances, but you have to be brave and you have to be willing to commit everything to it. It takes a lot of hard work to get a result and performance like we did last weekend, but if you do that, you see the outcomes like we did against Leicester.”
Sadly, Baxter cannot stick with his winning formula for tomorrow’s encounter. A broken jaw means winger Olly Woodburn is going to be sidelined for at least a month, while a foot injury to Nic White means he also missed out this weekend. Into the side come Henry Slade and Stuart Townsend, Slade’s inclusion in the centre means Ian Whitten is shunted to the wing.
On the bench, Jack Maunder is included as back-up to Townsend, while summer signing Alex Cuthbert – who had 40 minutes for the Braves on Monday night against Saracens – is included for the first time since his move from Cardiff Blues.
15 Phil Dollman
14 Ian Whitten
13 Henry Slade
12 Ollie Devoto
11 Santiago Cordero
10 Gareth Steenson
9 Stuart Townsend
1 Alec Hepburn
2 Jack Yeandle (capt)
3 Tomas Francis
4 Ollie Atkins
5 Sam Skinner
6 Don Armand
7 Matt Kvesic
8 Sam Simmonds
16 Luke Cowan-Dickie
17 Greg Holmes
18 Harry Williams
19 Toby Salmon
20 Sean Lonsdale
21 Jack Maunder
22 Joe Simmonds
23 Alex Cuthbert