Having accrued just one win in 11 previous top flight encounters against their nearest and dearest, the Chiefs are hoping to inflict further woe on Mike Ford’s side, who are surprisingly languishing ninth in the current standings.
Beaten last May in the Premiership Final by Saracens, Bath have struggled to replicate the kind of form which helped to propel them to Twickenham. With just four wins to date in the league, time is fast running out for the Roman City club in their quest to reach the play-offs.
One of those four successes, however, came against the Chiefs on the opening day of the season, when they edged out their Devon rivals 19-17 at the Rec.
Since then, the Chiefs have impressed many with their league form and having returned to winning ways last weekend against lowly London Irish, backs coach Hepher is hoping his side can repeat the feat in front of a sell-out crowd.
“it’s a local derby and a big game not just for us as players and coaches, but also for the fans,” said Hepher. “It’s also an important Premiership fixture and we need to collect as many points as possible.”
After successive away days at Sale Sharks and London Irish, the Chiefs are back on home soil for the first time since surrendering their 13-month long unbeaten home record to Saracens.
Heifer admitted the Exeter players were disappointed to see their record fall by the wayside, but he’s well aware they are already challenging themselves inwardly to go on another run, starting with a big display this weekend.
“It will be good to get back on our own patch and put in a big performance for the fans,” added Hepher. “Add it into the mix that it’s a local derby as well and it has all the makings of being a great game of rugby.
“We’ve picked up two wins in the last four weeks, but we’ve also had three away games in that time as well. Yes, it was disappointing to lose the home record, but it doesn’t mean we are a bad side at home. What it does mean is we have qualities within the squad, which we have shown all year.
“From our perspective, we know we have got to put in a stellar home performance this weekend and if we do that, then the result should take care of itself.”
With a healthy eight-point cushion to Wasps in third place, the Chiefs know victory this weekend will inch them ever closer to securing a play-off berth but, more crucially, keep the ever-increasing chasing pack at bay for at least another week.
Hepher continued: “We’re aware everyone is coming behind us, but we’re out in front [with Saracens] and we’d rather be there than chasing. What we have to do, however, is focus on this weekend and look to get as many points as possible.
“From the outset we knew this would one of the most competitive Premiership seasons ever and it’s proved that way. Every team is capable of winning games and as Rob said last week, we may be clear of relegation, we still have a huge amount of work to do between now and the end of the season.”
Although victorious last time out, the Chiefs have tinkered with their winning formula for this latest encounter. Up front Luke Cowan-Dickie and Harry Williams are brought into the front row, the latter for his first-ever Premiership start, whilst Dave Ewers is also included in the pack for the first time since last November.
With the imposing Ewers returning to the fold, Don Armand moves to the openside flank with Julian Salvi nursing a knock from last weekend’s game at Irish.
The only other change in personnel comes at scrum-half where Dave Lewis, who has scored tries at both Sale and Irish, is given the nod over Will Chudley.
Even with the change in personnel, Hepher says the Chiefs players can expected to be tested in every facet of the game by Sunday’s rivals.
“They’ll be disappointed with where they are, but if you look at their team and their players, they have the ability to win any game of rugby,” warned Hepher. “They still pose many threats, so we have to make sure we are right on top of our game to handle them.
“Things have moved on since the start of the season and both sides are a different proposition to what they were then. Their side will have a changed a bit because of injuries and international call-ups, but they’ve still lots of different options available to them. As always we’ll concentrate on ourselves as much as possible and then look for themes within their play.”
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