Rob Baxter insists the way his side finished last week’s Heineken Champions Cup opener against Munster must now be the starting point for his players ahead of tomorrow’s Round Two clash with Castres (2pm).
With little to choose between the Chiefs and Munster in horrendous conditions at Sandy Park, it was the current Gallagher Premiership leaders who were pressing hard in the dying minutes. Up against a gale force wind, Baxter’s side came within a whisker of claiming all four points against the Irish province.
Sadly, a knock-on in the last action of the game ended their hopes of a famous triumph, but the Chiefs’ Director of Rugby saw enough in that performance to give him plenty of encouragement ahead of their latest trip across the English Channel.
“I’m very enthusiastic about a lot of what we did at the weekend,” said Baxter. “Munster are a quality side, so to keep them down to 10 points took a huge effort. I know we only scored 10 points as well, but anyone watching that game could see we had a bit more in attack and that it was Munster who were just about hanging on at the end.
“We only need one bit of play of one decision to go our way in that last few minutes and all of a sudden it’s a different result. It was us who were playing into a gale, it was us who were pushing hard for the win so, as I said, there was an awful lot to be pleased and enthusiastic about.
“Moving forward, I know if we are willing to work that hard in future rounds, then we are going to give ourselves a great chance of progressing within the competition.”
So, two points already accrued, the Chiefs will now tackle the reigning French Top14 champions for the first time in competitive battle this weekend.
Castres kicked-off their European campaign with defeat at Gloucester last Sunday, but on home soil they will be a real threat and Baxter has warned his team to prepare for battle at the Stade Pierre Fabre.
“We know it will be tough,” added Baxter. “They are the reigning French champions and if you watched their game with Gloucester, they were very much in that game right up until the end. Obviously they will be different to what we usually face over here in England, they won’t be as disciplined with their patterns, they’ll be more open and they look to gain momentum through individual moments.
“We have to be aware of those threats, but at the same time look to impose our game on them. I think it will be an interesting clash of styles, but if we identify those threats, we stay switched on, and we deal with them through our own systems working correctly, then we can really concentrate on ourselves. That’s when we can look at the level of rugby we can bring and enjoy the freedom of going out there and really looking to express ourselves.”
Certainly, part of the pre-match plan for the Devonians will be to try and target a fast start, something they didn’t quite manage against Munster last time out.
“I think that was the biggest frustration for the players watching it back this week,” continued Baxter. “It wasn’t until we reviewed the game that we probably saw how long it took for us to get going. That first 20 minutes was quite frustrating in a lot of ways and it was not until we reviewed it this week that we realised just how important it was to probably ram in a few more points in that first half.
“When you look at how we performed in the second half, which I thought was exceptional at times, there wasn’t a huge amount more we needed to do to get the win. Therefore, as frustrated as we were, it’s a good frustration to have and we must use that against Castres.”
Indeed, Baxter saw first-hand the intensity his side brought to that game and has called for more of the same tomorrow.
“If you’re not intense against Munster, then they are going to roll all over you,” he said. “If we’re being honest, we probably worried a little too much about taking them on in that confrontational way, rather than focusing on other areas off our game. There were times where out awareness of space or our tempo was a little off.
“That said, we weren’t a million miles off and Munster knew they had been in a real fight. You could tell they were delighted with the draw, so I’m pretty comfortable with where we are at right now.
“It was a decent performance from us again, but there is a feeling within the guys that they weren’t quite at their best last week. I believe it we can get to our best over these next few games, we will end up qualifying, and if we qualify we will be a dangerous side to face in the quarter-finals.”
Injuries to Sam Skinner, Dave Dennis and Dave Ewers mean Baxter has been forced into changes in his starting pack. Ollie Atkins and Wilhelm Van Der Sluys both come into the Exeter engine-room, the latter for his first European start for the club, while Tom Lawday gets his first-ever European start at No.8 The back division, meanwhile, remains unchanged from a week ago.
15 Phil Dollman
14 Jack Nowell
13 Henry Slade
12 Ian Whitten
11 Santiago Cordero
10 Gareth Steenson (capt)
9 Stuart Townsend
1 Ben Moon
2 Luke Cowan-Dickie
3 Harry Williams
4 Ollie Atkins
5 Wilhelm Van Der Slums
6 Don Armand
7 Matt Kvesic
8 Tom Lawday
16 Jack Yeandle
17 Alec Hepburn
18 Tomas Francis
19 Sean Lonsdale
20 Toby Salmon
21 Jack Maunder
22 Joe Simmonds
23 Sam Hill
Member since: 5th January 2016
Hi, I am Mark Stevens, Media and Communications Manager for the Exeter Chiefs