Whether history repeats itself for Exeter Chiefs in the European Champions Cup only time will tell, but head coach Rob Baxter says he and his team will not go down without a fight.
With just one qualification round remaining in Pool 5, Devon’s finest will head across the English Channel in buoyant mood for tomorrow’s encounter against ASM Clermont Auvergne at the Stade Marcel Michelin (2pm).
Back-to-back victories in Europe, the latest of which came last Sunday at home to Ulster Rugby, has seen the Chiefs move off the foot of the table, leapfrogging the Irish province and Bordeaux-Begles in the process, to move into second place behind their already-qualified hosts this weekend.
Last season the Chiefs booked a first-ever place in the Champions Cup on a whirlwind final day that not only saw them defeat the Ospreys at Sandy Park, but saw Clermont fail to gain the necessary point they needed to advance onwards.
It was the stuff of dreams for Baxter and his side, who know mathematically they have a chance of repeating the feat this weekend, but in truth face a much tougher challenge than that of 12 months ago.
For the Premiership club to stand any chance of making the last eight, they will have to see off a Clermont outfit, who have won their two previous home meetings against Baxter’s side in previous years. Even then, if that were to happen, that still may not be enough for the Chiefs, but it’s a challenge the Exeter leader and his players are relishing ahead of kick-off.
“It’s a scenario that’s not too different to that of last season,” said Baxter. “Yes, we have to do well in the game we have to have results go out way, but history shows that strange things can happen.
"Getting tied up with points and where we'll come will probably only confuse us and cloud exactly how we want to play and what we want to get right. We certainly won't get carried away too much with points and what it will take to qualify.
"The reality is that it is about turning up like we did at the weekend against Ulster and putting in levels of performance that deserve to win the game."
Just to underline the challenge facing Baxter’s side, however, is the fact that the two previous meetings at the Stade Marcel Michelin have ended in a combined aggregate score of 88-13 to the Frenchmen.
That said, the Chiefs have triumphed over their rivals - winning at Sandy Park last season 31-14 - but they were put back in their shells in October when Franck Azema’s team gained sweet revenge in a 35-8 success.
It was a tough day at the office for Baxter and his own players, who have since regrouped well to not only get their European campaign back on track, but also their Premiership season, where they now lie within the division’s top three clubs.
“The way we talked after the Clermont game was about ourselves and just setting some new standards about how we had been earlier in the season,” added Baxter. “The Clermont served as a good marker for us, a good stop point on what we were doing at that time.
“This weekend will not be about us trying to write some wrongs, because it we wanted to do that we could talk about a lot more than the Clermont performance from earlier in the season. For me, it’s more of an opportunity to show that we are a good side, playing in a very tough European competition, and that it is the next game on a pathway in which I want to see the upward curve from Exeter continue.
"We know that if we play well we can look a good side, but if we don't commit to things fully, we look very beatable. We have to focus on that top bit of our performance levels. As a good player, it is easy to play okay, but okay is often not good enough against the good sides. We need to be very, very good, and that is our focus this weekend.”
In what is the second game of a four-game Cup month for the Chiefs, Baxter has again rotated his options ahead of tomorrow’s encounter.
Up front. Jack Yeandle and Tomas Francis come into the front-row for Luke Cowan-Dickie and Greg Holmes; Ollie Atkins takes over from compatriot Mitch Lees alongside Jonny Hill; while Kai Horstmann gets the nod in the back-row over Tom Johnson, who drops to the bench
Behind, Jack Maunder starts at scrum-half, Ollie Devoto comes into the centre alongside two-try hero Michele Campagnaro in the centre, while James Short fills the wing spot vacated by Jack Nowell, who is being rested by Baxter.
15 Phil Dollman
14 Olly Woodburn
13 Michele Campagnaro
12 Ollie Devoto
11 James Short
10 Gareth Steenson (capt)
9 Jack Maunder
1 Ben Moon
2 Jack Yeandle
3 Tomas Francis
4 Ollie Atkins
5 Jonny Hill
6 Don Armand
7 Kai Horstmann
8 Thomas Waldrom
16 Luke Cowan-Dickie
17 Moray Low
18 Harry Williams
19 Damian Welch
20 Tom Johnson
21 Stuart Townsend
22 Ian Whitten
23 Joe Simmonds
Member since: 5th January 2016
Hi, I am Mark Stevens, Media and Communications Manager for the Exeter Chiefs