Rob Baxter says the time has come for his side to put their foot down and ‘accelerate’ their way through this season’s Aviva Premiership campaign.
After a somewhat mixed start for last season’s beaten finalists, Exeter Chiefs resume their top-flight programme tomorrow evening when they make the long trip to Newcastle Falcons (8pm).
Buoyed by last weekend’s convincing 62-25 win over Cardiff Blues in the Anglo-Welsh Cup, Baxter is hoping the feel-good factor of that ten-try victory will ensure his side arrive in the North East with a spring in their step.
“This is the start of a big block of Premiership fixtures for us,” said Baxter. “All week we’ve tried to focus on ourselves and get ourselves up to speed and the intensity that we want to be – and in a lot of ways we are starting to look mentally fit for the season.
“I know that might sound strange to some people, but that is where we are at. I’ve said to the players the expectation from me is for us to now start to accelerate our way through the season. I think we have come through not necessarily a sticky patch, but more so a patch we needed to go through.
“Now what we need to make sure we remember is what the Premiership is all about and by that I mean just how important and how precious each game is. Right now I like where we are as a squad and I feel we’re on a bit of an upward curve. This game, I suppose, is the ideal test for us to test that out.
“Going all the way to Newcastle, on a Friday night, with what’s probably going to be their biggest crowd of the season so far, those are the challenges we have to relish and make the most of. I talk to the players a lot about games being precious things and that is how I want us to play. I want us to play every game like it’s a precious thing and for us to make the most of it.”
With the team taking to the skies on Thursday to make the long trip to Kingston Park, Baxter is hoping his players can emulate last season when they got off to a flying start at the same venue, securing the try bonus point inside the first 30 minutes.
“I think every team wants to get out of the blocks quickly in every game,” continued Baxter. “You always want to put points on the board, put pressure on the opposition and take pressure off yourselves.
“All this week we’ve talked about the qualities we want to show and the things we want to emphasise within the game. Some of that will be around pace and tempo, but that will come as a given on a rubber crumb pitch.
“For me, though, I think the most important thing we have to do is turn up with the right attitude to win a game of Premiership rugby. If we can do that, then you give yourself a great starting point from which to work with, and that’s what I will be telling the players ahead of the game.”
Standing in the way of the Chiefs, however, will be a Falcons outfit who themselves will be targeting victory and who Baxter warns offer some creditable threats.
“They are not a team we can afford to take lightly,” warned the head coach. “You only have to look at their results and watch some of their performances this season to see they are a good side. We know it’s going to be a tough game, but at the same time I think we have prepared in a very professional way, even though it’s been a short week, and that we will be ready for whatever challenges lie ahead.”
As expected Baxter recalls many of his frontline stars for tomorrow’s encounter after many were given the past fortnight off to recharge their batteries. Of last weekend’s starting team, Phil Dollman, Ian Whitten and former Falcon Will Chudley are all they remain in place.
However, on the bench there are first-time call-ups in the Premiership for Shaun Malton and Joe Simmonds, the latter of whom was named man of the match against the Blues last time out.
Otherwise, the visitors have a very familiar look to their line-up, although Baxter was able to report that a number of his walking wounded were edging evert closer to full fitness, including the likes of Don Armand and Dave Ewers, while England duo Luke Cowan-Dickie and Jack Nowell are also progressing nicely.
15 Phil Dollman
14 Olly Woodburn
13 Ollie Devoto
12 Ian Whitten
11 James Short
10 Gareth Steenson (capt)
9 Will Chudley
1 Ben Moon
2 Jack Yeandle
3 Harry Williams
4 Mitch Lees
5 Jonny Hill
6 Dave Dennis
7 Kai Horstmann
8 Thomas Waldrom
16 Shaun Malton
17 Carl Rimmer
18 Greg Holmes
19 Geoff Parling
20 Ben White
21 Jack Maunder
22 Joe Simmonds
23 Lachie Turner