After a difficult month of action in the Aviva Premiership, the switch to European Challenge Cup action could not have been better timed for the Devon club, who head into this weekend’s tussle top of Pool Two and two points clear of their Irish hosts.
Connacht, though, are a tough nut to crack at the Galway Sportsground and their impressive European record - which reads 10 wins in their last 12 home games - means victory is by no means assured for the Westcountry outfit.
Baxter is well aware of the threat the Irish province pose to his team as they look to secure a last eight place in this season’s tournament. However, having mixed it with some of European Rugby’s elite in recent season, it’s a challenge the Chiefs leader says he and his team cannot wait to get stuck into.
“We know it’s going to be tough over there, but that’s what rugby is all about at this level,” said Baxter. “We have been away to some tough places in Europe before, the likes of Leinster, Toulon and Clermont, so we just have to get over there, enjoy it, and attack the game as best we can.
“After the last few weeks we’ve had in the Premiership, it’s a great challenge for us and one that will focus the minds nicely. We’ve trained well this week and I’ve been very impressed with the attitude of the players because it can sometimes be very easy to show your disappointment in the wrong way.”
Last Sunday’s last-gaps 28-26 defeat at London Irish condemned the Chiefs to a fourth successive top flight loss, but Baxter says his squad have remained upbeat during their recent woes and are keen to get themselves firmly back on track.
“I know the players are frustrated and disappointed with the last few weeks,” added Baxter. “As I see it, you can show that by being grumpy, not training very well and thinking the world is against you - or you can get your head up, train well, be active in meetings and look to improve your performance and that of the team. Looking at it again this week, it’s the latter that the lads have displayed in training this week.
“We have reset a few things, set ourselves some different goals and we’ve looked to develop two or three areas of our game.
“We’ve narrowed our focus a bit and we’ve not run around this week trying to recreate some fantastic, all-court game. Instead we have nailed down two or three areas where we feel we can get some immediate improvement and where we feel that improvements will help us become a better side.
“Over this next four weeks, we will slowly add a few things with the aim of being right back on top form once the Premiership kicks back into action.”
Connacht, though, will themselves be looking to add to Exeter’s recent woes and with an impressive home record behind them, Baxter says the Irishmen will offer a much stiffer test to that which was defeated 33-13 by the Chiefs at Sandy Park back in October.
“You expect them to be different,” warned Baxter. “Like a lot of teams, they’ve made no secret that their home form is important to them - and if you get that right then you tend to have good seasons.
“In this competition, they’s won 10 out of 12 at home, so they have an extremely good record and it’s just as good in the Rabo Direct League as well. As I said, it’s a great challenge for our boys going over there and one that could potentially offer us great reward if we were to come away with a result.”
Injuries to tight-head props Tomas Francis and Moray Low mean Alex Brown comes into the front-row alongside recalled hooker Luke Cowan-Dickie, while behind Dave Lewis and Henry Slade form a new half-back pairing; Jack Nowell is switched from the wing to centre and Ian Whitten is handed a start on his return home to Ireland.
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