Don Armand says it’s imperative he and his Exeter Chiefs team-mates ‘stay in the fight’ for the full 80 minutes when they tackle reigning English and European champions Saracens at a sold-out Allianz Park (3pm).
Following the lead of head coach Rob Baxter, who often coins that very phrase many times over the course of a season, Armand knows there is no bigger test than facing the Londoners in competitive battle.
Mark McCall’s side have proved in recent years they are the stand-out force in Northern Hemisphere club rugby, winning not only back-to-back Premiership crowns, but also lifting Europe’s top prize last season for the first time with victory over Racing 92 in Lyon.
This season they have continued to demonstrate their qualities in the defence of both competitions, currently lying second in the Premiership, and top of their Champions Cup pool with an unblemished record after four rounds.
However, Armand knows from past experience that Sarries are certainly beatable, two years ago the Chiefs did the league double over them, and says nothing less than a season-best display will be enough when they lock horns in the capital.
“Obviously we are away from home, playing on their turf, against a team who are near the top of the log, so it’s a big game for us and we need to get up for it,” said Armand.
“We’ve had two very good wins over the Christmas period [against Leicester and Bath] and we need to keep it going if possible. Last week we stayed in the fight up at Bath and eventually got the win. For 60 minutes it wasn’t the prettiest game for us, but the boys came together well and with 20 minutes to go we really started to build it.
“You could say luck went our way near the end, but sometimes you make your own luck, and when you do it’s important you take those opportunities, which we did. Now it’s important we look to carry that through to this weekend.
“As I said, it will be tough up there – it always is – and you know that whenever two top teams play one another, there are going to be times when not everything is going to go your way. What we need to ensure is we remain competitive throughout and I think the team that stays in the fight the longest will be the team that ultimately comes out on top.”
With Saracens winning all three meetings last season, including the Premiership final at Twickenham last May, plus recording a 34-13 success at Sandy Park in Round Two this season, Armand and his team-mates are keen to buck the losing trend sooner, rather than later.
“You always know you’ll be in for a huge battle whenever you play Saracens,” added the 28-year-old forward, who joined the Chiefs in 2013 from Super Rugby side, the Stormers. “Apart from here earlier in the season, when they jumped on all of our mistakes and made the scoreline look bigger than it should have been, we’ve always tended to have some really close battles with them.
“One year we beat them home and away, so we know we have it within us to really challenge them. There is history between the two of us, but this weekend is another test again and it will come down to whoever pitches up on the day and stays in the game for that full 80 minutes.”
And having faced Sarries on numerous occasions, the Chiefs need no reminding of what is coming at them tomorrow.
“Every side will do their homework on them – and you know what they like to do – but it’s not so easy to stop them. I think that is what makes them such a top side. What they do, they do very well, so you need to stand in front of them to give yourselves any kind of a chance. If you don’t and you let them do what they do, they will jump on every mistake and make the most of the opportunities they create.”
Member since: 5th January 2016
Hi, I am Mark Stevens, Media and Communications Manager for the Exeter Chiefs