17th April 2015
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Having already advanced to one major final this term, the Devon club are now targeting a second as they look to advance to a first-ever European Challenge Cup Final on Friday, May 1.


Standing in the way of Baxter's in-form charges, however, are Aviva Premiership rivals Gloucester, who provide the opposition in tomorrow night's mouth-watering semi-final at Kingsholm (7:45pm).


With both clubs have advanced to this stage with impressive European records - and the two sides locked at one win apiece against each other this season in the league - there really is little to choose between the rivals clubs as they look to target a place against either Edinburgh or the Dragons in the main event.


However, Baxter's side will head into the contest knowing that not only have they prospered on Gloucester soil this season, but they come into the game on the back of a hugely impressive win over Northampton Saints last time out.


That 21-10 victory not only lifted the Chiefs back into the Premiership play-off places, but also ensured they became the first side this season to overcome the reigning champions both home and away.


Whilst delighted with that notable scalp, Baxter was quickly setting the tone for tomorrow night's tussle, a game which he says will be just as tough - if not tougher - for his battle-hardened troops.


"We always say at the start of the year that the key for us is to keep every competition alive for as long as possible," said the Exeter head coach. "We have a big focus on that at the start of every season and that has already happened in the LV= Cup which wasn't dead for us until the very last kick of the game.


"Obviously now getting to the semi-final of this competition and being in the top four of the Premiership, it's making it a very exciting season for us, and for me I think that's the real key, we want to be excited about things and not fret too much.


"If we look back at what was the worst part of the season for us, the period when we lost four games on the trot in the Premiership, we got a bit fretful about where we were in the league. We were going very well at the time, but then we let ourselves down and didn't play like a team who were excited about playing Premiership games of rugby. Since then we have addressed that and now we're playing some really top quality rugby."


Indeed, Baxter's belief that being excited about where the Chiefs can ultimately go and shutting out the thought of being afraid of losing, is helping to develop his young side into a team that can be a force for years to come.


"I've said to the guys whatever happens this season, we are not going to get afraid of losing," continued Baxter. "I think being afraid of what is going to be taken off you can be a very negative thing. If we're honest, we got a little bit like that earlier in the season, but fair play to the players they've not played like that since.


"Every performance since then we have gone out and we've laid down a lot, both physically and emotionally, and that gives you a foundation. If things go well on top of that, then things go well."


Exeter's Commander-in-Chief also believes the experiences gleaned in recent years by his squad have also helped to bring a new dimension and a cutting edge to their play.


He added: "We like to think that every experience is good for us," added Baxter. "We enjoyed being in the Heineken Cup for two seasons and we played in some very tough fixtures. We had the likes of Toulon, Leinster and Clermont in our group, but we actually learned so much from those games.


"Those fixtures were fantastic not just for our players, but they were fantastic for us as coaches as well and I think if anything they have been the spark of where this team is now."


Just how far the Chiefs have come, however, will be tested in the heat of battle tomorrow against the Cherry & Whites, who themselves are former winners of this competition.


Baxter and his squad are well aware of the threat Gloucester pose to their European aspirations, but the Chiefs coach is relishing what should be an electric encounter.


"A packed out Kingsholm with the conditions like they are now, it should be a fantastic place to go and play a game of rugby," said Baxter. "We need to make sure we use that as our motivation and not let it worry us that we're going away from home. We've put in some big performances away from home this season and now we have to back it up and show we're not afraid to go out and win the game.


"I get asked a lot these days is this is the biggest game in the club's history? For me, these are not the biggest because at this stage I'd say the biggest games were the ones that got us into the Premiership - and then in our first couple of years the ones that allowed us to get established. They are the games that are probably the biggest.


"Now we have to look at games like this as being what you should target at the start of every season. The established clubs within the Premiership aim for these games year in, year out, so therefore we have to make the most of these opportunities. I look at it, if you work this hard to get to this stage, then go out and make the most of it."


Team news for the Chiefs sees one change to the starting XV from that which defeated the Saints last weekend. A bang to the head for Ben White means he sits out the action, so Kai Horstmann is promoted from the bench and England international Tom Johnson fills the vacant void.


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Dave B

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