28th February 2014
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With just one win in their last eight top flight fixtures, Baxter has seen his side slip from top four hopefuls to that of a team now positioned in eighth spot, some nine points adrift of sixth-placed Sale Sharks.

However, the Chiefs leader is hoping this weekend's return to home comforts against the visiting Exiles will help to re-ignite his side's chances.

In the aftermath of last Sunday's 23-10 loss at high-flying Saracens, a frustrated Baxter laid down the challenge to his troops that victory this weekend was a must after so many near misses in recent weeks.

As well as wanting to turn around the recent poor run of results, Baxter is also keen to see how his players react under pressure, with an eye on bigger games to come in the future.

“We’ve got a huge game against London Irish this weekend which I’ve already challenged the players, if we want our season to take any steps forward, is a must-win game for us,” said Baxter.

“I don’t think I have ever said to the players before ‘next week is a must-win game for you’ but I said it to them after last week's defeat because, the way this season is going, the end of season has got a lot of opportunities for us.

“It’s not just about seeing where we can go in the league table but also how we challenge ourselves and how I can challenge the players.

“We’re going to approach a few games a bit differently because I want to test them and their mental resolve and see which players enjoy playing under a bit of extra pressure.

“These are things we have to develop if we want to be a top-class side. If we want to win semi-finals and finals and the crucial games that get you into the top four, the importance of every game is only going to increase as you get closer to the big goal."

Baxter added: “I don’t think there’s anything wrong with challenging ourselves to experience those feelings and not just say ‘everything’s okay, let’s just see what happens’. We need to start to go beyond that as well.

“We have to start producing the goods. I’m more than happy to put a bit of pressure on the players to make sure they understand the importance of this game.”

Having produced a solid first half display at Allianz Park - one in which they turned round level with Saracens having played into a strong wind - the Chiefs then failed to replicate the same kind of showing in the second period.

A converted Schalk Brits try, together with three penalties from Charlie Hodgson, enabled the Londoners to ease clear on their way to a 13th league win of the season.

Not for the first time this season, Baxter was left thinking the game had got away from his side at crucial times - whilst players making wrong decisions under pressure again came back to haunt him.

“I think we get a bit edgy because of the situation we find ourselves in at the moment and also dealing with being under pressure a bit better,” said Baxter. “It’s something that every player has to get better at during their career.

“I don’t think it’s a lack of confidence in what we’re trying to do, there is pressure on the players but the pressure is that they want to win games and they want to perform well.

“At the moment it doesn’t always manifest itself in the most positive way, but there were times when Saracens didn’t do the right thing under pressure from us.”

The Chiefs have faced the top three sides in the Premiership on successive weekends, losing all of them. Baxter hopes that run will help the players improve their game in the coming months and years.

“If we react positively to the month we’ve had, which has been tough on us fixture wise, it will be a very important month for us down the line,” he said.

“That’s what I’m going to keep ramming home to the players. A tough month, a tough run of fixtures or a tough run of results can do two things – they can make you feel sorry for yourself or they can make you stronger.

“That’s a management issue and we have to make sure the tough results and the tough run of fixtures against tough opposition has made us stronger. What I would like to see is some of that show this weekend against London Irish.”

Irish, though, have themselves run into a bit of form in recent weeks and although they narrowly came unstuck at home to Leicester Tigers, Baxter is aware this weekend's visitors have threats right across the board.

Ahead of kick-off, Baxter has been boosted with the news that prop  Hoani Tui is available for selection despite pulling out of the action early a week ago, whilst there will be a first-ever Premiership start for Cornish hooker Luke Cowan-Dickie, who comes in for Jack Yeandle, who took a bang to his head at Saracens.

Behind, Henry Slade gets the nod at fly-half over Gareth Steenson; Phil Dollman reverts back into the midfield alongside Ian Whitten, whilst there are recalls for both Luke Arscott and Tom James.

Tickets for tomorrow's fixtures are still available through the Chiefs' official website or can be purchased on the day of the game from the Ticket Office, which opens from 12 noon.




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