Chiefs side to face Sale Sharks
26th October 2017
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Rob Baxter has challenged his Exeter Chiefs side to build on their impressive form of late when they return to Aviva Premiership action at Sale Sharks tomorrow night (7:45pm).

A decent league win over Newcastle Falcons at Sandy Park have been followed by equally strong showings in Europe, where the Chiefs have seen off both Glasgow Warriors and Montpellier, to give them a winning start to life in Pool 3 of the competition.

Now, Devon's finest must go again in the North West against a Sharks outfit who are notoriously tough opponents in home waters.

Baxter needs no reminding of the threat posed by their hosts tomorrow, but believes his side - despite an unusually short five-day turnaround - have what it takes to maintain their position at the top end of the Premiership table.

"We've made a decent start in the Premiership and we've followed it up with two great wins in Europe over the past fortnight," said the Chiefs Director of Rugby. "All of that has put us in a great position on two fronts and I have to congratulate the players for all their hard work and the consistency they have shown, not just in games, but in training and in pre-season, to drive through what has been a strong start to the season for us.

"I don't think it's a surprise to anyone that we put a bit of pressure on ourselves to get off the mark in Europe strongly, but we've done that on the basis of collecting a decent amount of points in the Premiership. Now, we have the opportunity to go to Sale on Friday and potentially finish the weekend still in the top two. If we can do that, then I think we can judge it as a very successful block."

Sale, however, will themselves be looking to get back on the straight and narrow having lost to Lyon last time out - and in wingers Denny Solomona and former Chiefs player Byron McGuigan, they possess two of the deadliest finishers in the division so far this season.

Up front, they are equally strong and Baxter insists it will be a "huge test" of character for his players to rise to ahead of kick-off.

"Sale at home are a huge test of your attitude and your commitment to getting out there and working hard," warned Baxter. "That said, I'd like to think that is one of our strengths. Certainly I'd like to think we can go there, challenge the players to front up, whilst at the same time be ourselves and look to impose our game on them.

"That's what we have talked a lot about this week in the build up to the game, so now it's up to the players to show they are capable of doing that."

Despite the short turnaround, Baxter insists his squad is in fine fettle and that much of the week has been concentrated on ensuring his players recharge not just physically after their exertions in France, but also mentally.

"It's not an ideal situation for us, but at the end of the day it is what it is," continued Baxter. "We have had a relatively short week, where we've not put a lot of energy out on the field, but we've worked hard on other aspects to ensure the guys will be in the best condition possible for Friday night."

With that in mind, the visitors have made slight tweaks to their winning formula with Carl Rimmer, Harry Williams, Ollie Akins and Sam Simmonds all coming into the pack, while behind the sole change sees James Short starts on the wing.

"We've got some good options to work with, more so in the forwards than the backs, but it's still a very strong and competitive side we can put out onto the field," explained Baxter. "As coaches we are feeling comfortable with the side we are taking to Sale and I'm expecting a big performance from us."

Certainly the Chiefs have delivered on many fronts this season and Baxter believes a growing maturity within the ranks is helping his side to deal with on-field matters.

"I think it's a mark of a team that are maturing that we are able to come through battles like we have," said Baxter. "I said to the guys at the start of the season that they need to get use to being a top four side, who win Premiership semi-finals, play in finals and, ultimately, win the competition.

"We have to use those experiences to make us better and believe that more good things can happen. I think by going through experiences like we have in the past, it is shaping us into becoming a much better side all the time.

"The lessons we have learnt have been crucial and it's come through, certainly in the last two games, because it has not always gone to plan. If you remember we were ten points down to Glasgow, but we dealt with it and we came back well. Again last week, Montpellier were in front for a large period of the game, but again we stuck at it and dealt with things.

"Those are the kind of lessons which are invaluable to us and we can't afford to take them for granted. Sale on Friday night is probably the perfect example of a game that can kick you in the pants if you don't get things right."

15 Phil Dollman

14 Lachie Turner

13 Henry Slade

12 Ian Whitten

11 James Short

10 Gareth Steenson

9 Nic White

1 Carl Rimmer

2 Jack Yeandle (capt)

3 Harry Williams

4 Mitch Lees

5 Ollie Atkins

6 Don Armand

7 Sam Simmonds

8 Thomas Waldrom

 

16 Elvis Taione

17 Alec Hepburn

18 Tomas Francis

19 Jonny Hill

20 Sam Skinner

21 Stuart Townsend

22 Tom Hendrickson

23 Tom O'Flaherty

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