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Preview: Exeter Chiefs v Bath
Beware the wounded animal, that’s the message from Exeter Chiefs boss Rob Baxter as they prepare to host struggling Bath Rugby this weekend in Aviva Premiership Rugby.
Last weekend Bath lost at home to Wasps and have now won just one of their last eight encounters in all competitions: 16-14 at Worcester Warriors in round 12, while they languish in ninth position in the league just ten points clear of bottom club London Irish.
Despite the unenviable recent record and the dip in form and performances in the league, Baxter has warned his players Bath Rugby are full of star names and on their day are capable of beating any club in European rugby.
Exeter’s challenge will be made simpler, with Bath missing a trio of backs, Anthony Watson, Jonathan Joseph and George Ford, all away on international duty with England.
But Exeter have won just one of 11 Aviva Premiership Rugby clashes against Bath, who were also the last team to deny the Chiefs any points in a league match back in late 2014 and so Baxter is understandably cautious ahead of the weekend.
"I think, if anything, the fear factor is still a little bit with us,” he said. “If you look at the record between the two sides it is still very much in Bath's favour – there's no escaping that. I'd be disappointed if we took anything for granted.
"I would also be a little bit shocked if we were complacent because we understand it is a very important game.
"There's nothing for us to be complacent about. They are fighting for different things to us but so were London Irish and we had to be very strong in that game and we'll have to show the same qualities this week.
"Bath aren't struggling as much as London Irish and they were really tough at the weekend, so there's no way we should be taking anything for granted.
"There is still a lot in that team and a lot of individual good players. The meat of that team were still Premiership finalists last year."
Exeter Chiefs ended a two game losing run with their 22-15 victory at London Irish on Sunday, while they have picked up at least one league point from every Aviva Premiership Rugby game they have played since their trip to Bath on in December 2014.
However, Exeter's only victory in their 11 Premiership encounters with Bath was 16-6 at Sandy Park in this equivalent fixture in round 16 of last season.
Bath prop Henry Thomas is relishing the encounter with Exeter Chiefs this weekend but admits the pressure is really on the squad to start producing a result.
“We know as a squad that the pressure is on us everywhere we go,” he added.
“We want to win and for our travelling fans in a derby, that’s even more important. It’s always a tough fixture, they’ve got a big pack and they throw it around quite a lot. They’ve been really tough to beat but we are ready for the battle and desperate to win ourselves.
“We do our analysis and go over in detail what we can expect from Exeter, and we will build our defence around that. But it’s crucial for us to get our attack right, and we can do that by making sure we’re accurate as our defence has been pretty good this year.”
Exeter Chiefs v Bath Rugby (Sandy Park, 1pm)
Referee: Greg Garner (93rd Premiership game).
Assistant Referees: Ross Campbell & Paul Dix. TMO: Geoff Warren.
Live on BT Sport