Chiefs side to face Leinster
8th December 2017
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Rob Baxter says his Exeter Chiefs side are looking forward to "challenging themselves" in their bid to establish the club amongst Europe's elite.

Whereas in previous years the Chiefs have been guilty of not turning up to the party until it's in full swing, there has been no such issue this time around with Devon's finest recording notable victories over Glasgow Warriors (home) and Montpellier (away) during the opening rounds of this season's Champions Cup.

Like the Chiefs, though, Sunday's visitors Leinster have also enjoyed a stellar start, bettering the Premiership champions by collecting maximum reward against the same opposition to lead Pool 3.

This weekend, however, the two will lock horns for the first time in four years in the first fixture of their European double-header.

Baxter knows the threat posed by the three-time European champions who, aided by the return of many of their frontline, international stars, will be out to inflict a first home defeat on the Chiefs since Bordeaux-Begles did so 12 months ago.

"Yes, it's a very big game against Leinster this weekend, but it's a big game because we have won our last two pool games and we are right up there," said the Chiefs Director of Rugby. "We've never had a start like this before in the Champions Cup, so I think the players are all really looking forward to challenging themselves."

Buoyed by notable Premiership victories over Harlequins, Saracens and Bath in successive weeks, the Chiefs enter into Sunday's showdown in prime form and looking to take their game to new levels.

"When you win games, the next game always seems to feel bigger and bigger," added Baxter. "Ironically, it can feel the same if you lose a few as well. However, as you become successful and win big games, you just fly into bigger games for all the right reasons moving forward.

"Over the course of the season We face a lot of tough games, but the boys are very focused and clear on what they want to achieve day by day in training. That in turn is leading to us playing well and becoming a difficult side to beat. As I said, I'm genuinely looking forward to seeing how we deal with the pressure of being towards the top of the Premiership and doing well in our Pool.

"For all of us, Sunday is not just a game to enjoy, it's something for us to go out and win."

As expected, Baxter has seen little reason to tinker too much with his winning formula, the sole changes in personnel to the starting XV that beat Bath a week ago see England international Henry Slade come into the centre for Sam Hill, while up front Jonny Hill gets the nod over Sam Skinner in the Exeter engine room.

On the bench, Welsh international Tomas Francis provides back-up at tight-head with Aussie Greg Holmes the man to miss out on this occasion.

One man who does start, however, is skipper Gareth Steenson, who has spoken of his excitement at tackling his fellow countrymen on the grand stage.

As one of five survivors from Exeter's Heineken Cup debut with Leinster back in 2012, the Chiefs playmaker knows he and his team-mates must make the most of their impressive start to the campaign.

“It’s been a good start for us really, we’ve talked about being ourselves really this season,” Stenson says. “Obviously it’s completely brand new being Premiership champions and new for the club so it was always going to be a different kind of challenge for us when we started the season. We’re in a really good place in the Premiership and we’ve put ourselves in a good position in Europe.

“We’ve never really started well in Europe before and it was a bit of a focus for us this year that we had to get off to a good start. To be in a position now going into the back-to-back fixture against a team that have won their two games. It’s very exciting going into Sunday’s fixture.”

Steenson recalls vividly Exeter's trip to Dublin five seasons ago when they came within a whisker of snatching a share of the spoils at the RDS Arena.

“That year was more of an exciting experience for us and about building as a club,” Steenson explains. “The squad we had then to be fighting on two fronts was probably too much and we were very much trying to establish ourselves as a Premiership club at the time. It was a great experience to have the European champions coming to Sandy Park and then going across to Dublin. It was really exciting for the club.

“Over the last four or five years, we’ve very much just tried to keep on building the progress we have made. We’ve played now in the knock-out stages and to play in a Premiership final and lose it and then go back and win one. That has shown how much the club has grown and we now feel we’re in a good position, we’re even fighting on all three fronts and we’ve got a squad of guys together now who have a good understanding of what makes us tick as a group.”

CHIEFS SIDE TO FACE LEINSTER

15 Phil Dollman
14 James Short
13 Henry Slade
12 Ian Whitten
11 Olly Woodburn
10 Gareth Steenson (capt)
9 Nic White
1 Alec Hepburn
2 Luke Cowan-Dickie
3 Harry Williams
4 Mitch Lees
5 Jonny Hill
6 Don Armand
7 Matt Kvesic
8 Thomas Waldrom

16 Jack Yeandle
17 Ben Moon
18 Tomas Francis
19 Sam Skinner
20 Sam Simmonds
21 Will Chudley
22 Sam Hill
23 Jack Nowell

 

 

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