Nothing less than victory will suffice for Rob Baxter and his Exeter Chiefs side ahead of Sunday’s European Champions Cup clash with Bordeaux Begles at Sandy Park (5:30pm).
Currently bottom of Pool 5 with just a solitary point, the Chiefs need to use the next fortnight to revive life back into their European aspirations following successive defeats to ASM Clermont Auvergne and Ulster Rugby in the opening two rounds.
Standing in their way over the next fortnight will be Raphael Ibanez’s Bordeaux side, a team that faced twice last season in the same competition, and a team who, on their day, are more than capable of causing an upset.
According to Baxter, though, the equation is relatively simple - “We need to win and probably have to chase a bonus point as well.
“That’s where we are are right now and is what it is. That’s down to us not picking up results in the earlier two rounds and other teams playing well to beat us. However, in a strange way, it’s helped create a real focus for the boys this week. Ultimately they are desperate to go out there on Sunday and do themselves justice in a home European game and start to show there is real value to us being in the Champions Cup.
“Personally, I think that’s very important and it’s those values that have been big drivers for us in the past. Being successful in the Champions Cup and winning games of top European rugby are very important to all of us and that’s the way we will talk again this week.”
Certainly the Chiefs will head into this latest block in a stronger position to that of earlier in the season where they were not only struggling to find their best form, but also were without a number of key frontline stars for the two games.
Four successive victories, three of them in the Aviva Premiership, have got Baxter’s side firing on all cylinders again and they will be hoping to maintain their winning formula against the visiting Frenchmen this weekend.
The latest of those successes came last week away to Friday, where the Chiefs produced arguably one of their best displays of the campaign so far to head home with a 21-3 victory.
“Our work-rate in the first half was fantastic,” said Baxter. “All the physical stats afterwards showed that was one of the hardest working performances of the season, if not the hardest, and on the night we reaped our rewards because of that.
“Coming in this week it was great to show the players that if they are willing to work that hard, the rewards they ultimately gain are very big. Yes, we are unfortunate not to get a bonus point, but at the same time to only concede three points was fantastic. The resolve we showed, especially in the closing minutes, and the desire to keep our line intact, that was great. It showed to me that there is some real steel in the side and that the performance levels were exactly what we wanted it to be.”
More of the same will be required over the next fortnight against Bordeaux Begles, a side Baxter knows pose plenty of creditable threats.
“They are a very good attacking side with multiple line breakers,” he warned, “They like to attack from deep, have a solid set-piece, so it should be a good test for us. At the same time, teams that like to attack like they do, if you can defend well against them, then it can create turnovers and attacking opportunities for us.
“Training for us has gone well this week and I sense there is a real determination amongst the guys to go out there and show what we are all about.”
At the same time, Sunday’s visitors will no doubt be thinking that can throw a spanner into the works and further enhance their own European claims by emerging victorious in the Westcountry.
“In reality Bordeaux will probably look to target both games, and so they should,” added Baxter. “Right now we are the defeated team in the pool, so in a lot of ways we should be the team that others look to target and try and collect maximum points against.
“What we need to do is flip that on its head and play well here at home. I want us to lay down a marker this week, then go to Bordeaux next week and try and double it up. We know it will be difficult, especially as they have a strong squad and they are going well in the Top 14, but that’s the kind of challenges we like here.
“This is why we work hard to be in the top six of the Premiership, we work hard because every game is a tough game and that is what makes it all so fantastic.”
Although victorious last time out, Baxter has used this week to freshen up his options, both upfront and behind. In the pack, Ben Moon, Tomas Francis, Jonny Hill, Dave Ewers and Dave Dennis all get starting roles, while behind Jack Maunder gets the nod at nine, Henry Slade is back from international duty with England, while Jack Nowell, fresh from a 50 minute run-out with the Braves on Monday night, also starts on the wing.
15 Lachie Turner
14 Jack Nowell
13 Ollie Devoto
12 Henry Slade
11 James Short
10 Gareth Steenson (capt)
9 Jack Maunder
1 Ben Moon
2 Jack Yeandle
3 Tomas Francis
4 Geoff Parling
5 Jonny Hill
6 Dave Ewers
7 Don Armand
8 Dave Dennis
16 Shaun Malton
17 Carl Rimmer
18 Greg Holmes
19 Ollie Atkins
20 Kai Horstmann
21 Will Chudley
22 Sam Hill
23 Michele Campagnaro