Rob Baxter insists the only target he has given his players ahead of their European Champions Cup campaign is to deliver “six Exeter Chiefs-type performances”.
A simple message of sorts, but one the Chiefs’ Director of Rugby is keen to see implemented, particularly as Exeter have too often been found guilty of sluggish starts against Europe’s elite clubs.
Tomorrow night, the reigning Aviva Premiership champions have the chance to kick-off the new season in style, playing host to rivals Glasgow Warriors at Sandy Park (7:45pm).
In what should be a mouth-watering contest between two in-form sides, Baxter knows it’s vital his side not only make the most of home advantage against their Scottish rivals, but produce a performance from which they can use a foundation to qualify out of Pool 3.
“Our focus has always been to get into the Champions Cup and to then hit it as hard as we can,” said Baxter. “I’m hoping our experiences of the last few years, where we have played in some very big games, will hold us in good stead for Round One.
“I’m not going to sit here and talk a load of rubbish saying how good we have been in Round One in previous years, simply because we haven’t been that good and we’ve tended to be very slow starters in this competition. As I said, I’m hoping we use the experience and understanding of big games we have been involved in during the past, like semi-finals here at Sandy Park or playing in finals at Twickenham, to put us in good stead this time around.
“Performances in those games have showed we can compete and that we are a useful side, so let’s stay true to that blueprint because ultimately that is what has helped to make us as successful as we have been.”
As Baxter rightly points out, however, the proof of the pudding will be uncovered tomorrow evening and that from the outset his players will need to be on their game against a Warriors outfit, who arrive in the Westcountry sitting top of the Guinness Pro 14 League and with an unblemished six from six winning record.
“We’ve discussed a number of things, but I’ve not really set any major targets for the guys,” added Baxter, who will go into the game without England and British Lions winger Jack Nowell, who sustained a facial fracture in last weekend’s home game with Newcastle Falcons and is set for period of time on the sidelines.
“All I’ve really said this week is I want to see six Exeter Chiefs-type performances over the course of the pool stages,” continued Baxter. “If we do, that in itself will show an improvement on how we have performed in Europe in the past.”
With just one victory in Round One to their name in the Champions Cup - that came against Cardiff Blues during the 2013/14 season - the Chiefs leader is mindful he does not want his team playing catch-up - as they have done in the past - from the outset.
“I’m more interested in our mindset and out emotional state rather than anything else,” said Baxter. “More often than not, that’s the deciding factor. If two teams go head-to-head, it’s the team that are willing to stuck in their the longest who ultimately come out on top.
“We’ve shown many times that we are a team that are willing to stick in there, so let’s hope we can do that again this weekend. Obviously there are elements of pressure we will have to try and create - to try and give them a few headaches - but as well as putting our attacking game on then, we also like to think we can pressure them defensively.
“We’ve looked at Glasgow this week and yes they look good, they look dangerous, they look comfortable as a group, and they have scored some very good tries. They also make mistakes, like any side, and what we have do from our perspective is force more mistakes on them than they have to make in other games this season.”
Although Nowell is missing, the Chiefs backline looks largely untroubled with Phil Dollman - who came on for the injured Cornishman last weekend - recalled to the starting line-up at full-back, allowing Aussie international Lachie Turner to move to the wing.
Up front, Ben Moon comes in for Carl Rimmer in the front-row, while an training injury to Dave Dennis means he sits out tomorrow’s tussle. Into the back-row comes Julian Salvi at openside with Don Armand moving across into the No.6 jersey.
On the bench, Baxter will delighted to have two more of his frontline stars available again after injury. Try-scoring No.8 Thomas Waldrom and winger James Short both return for the first time since breaking bones in the pre-season friendly against the Dragons.
15 Phil Dollman
14 Lachie Turner
13 Henry Slade
12 Ian Whitten
11 Olly Woodburn
10 Gareth Steenson
9 Nic White
1 Ben Moon
2 Jack Yeandle (capt)
3 Harry Williams
4 Mitch Lees
5 Jonny Hill
6 Don Armand
7 Julian Salvi
8 Sam Simmonds
16 Elvis Taione
17 Carl Rimmer
18 Tomas Francis
19 Ollie Atkins
20 Thomas Waldrom
21 Stuart Townsend
22 Tom Hendrickson
23 James Short