In what was a mixed fortnight for Devon’s finest against French rivals ASM Clermont Auvergne, this Saturday it’s Sale Sharks who provide the opposition at Sandy Park (3pm) in Exeter’s final game of 2015.
And as Baxter readied his troops for their latest league battle, the Chiefs head coach was in upbeat mood as he looked ahead to the Boxing Day match-up.
“We’re really looking forward to getting back into the Premiership, particularly with it being back here at home,” said Baxter. “Importantly, the lads have played fantastically well at home for quite a long time and we have worked extremely hard to make it a very hard place for opposition teams to come.
“It’s a place where we can thrive and is our aim is always to play well here.”
Certainly the statistics back up Baxter’s bold claim with the Chiefs losing just once at home in the calendar year. That defeat was back in January in their first home game of 2015 and it’s a record the Exeter squad are hopeful of extending into the New Year.
Indeed, there have been some notable scalps during the past 12 months, the biggest coming probably last time out at Sandy Park when a star-studded Clermont outfit were undone 31-14.
Last week, however, was a different story all together as the current Top 14 leaders got their revenge on the Devonians, swotting them aside 42-10 at the Stade Marcel Michelin.
Baxter admitted he and his team had been left ‘frustrated’ by events across the Channel and having talked in detail about it this week, things didn’t look quite so bad once an extensive review of the game had been carried out.
“We were a little bit frustrated with aspects of last week, even though it’s a very difficult place to go and play,” admitted Baxter. “We certainly did some things well over there, but I think what is nice is that the guys have actually trained this week in an angry and frustrated manner, rather than feeling sorry for themselves.
“I’m certainly not looking at the players and seeing a load of guys who think they have taken a beating and all of a sudden feel they are not a very good team. That have actually looked a little bit angry, a little bit frustrated and they’ve trained very well with a lot of energy.
“I actually think they are desperate to get back out onto a rugby field again this week and put things right. That’s exactly what we wanted to see, we wanted a group of guys who are desperate to get back into playing because Sale are a very good side and if you go out there undercooked and low on emotional energy, it’s going to be tough. Thankfully, I’ve not seen that in the boys this week.”
With the Chiefs riding high in second place in the current Premiership standings, Baxter is well aware the upcoming fixtures against Sale (home), Northampton Saints (away) and Gloucester (home) will pose a creditable set of challenges for his players to overcome.
And the very fact that two of those three fixtures are being played at fortress Sandy Park, merely underlines the importance of his team producing big displays.
“We’ve spent a lot of time talking about how you build a culture of winning at home and how you involve your supporters as much as you can,” said Baxter. “You know, I can’t stress enough the importance of being at home, just because it’s the backbone of your season.
“If you play well at home and collect points, you will have a good season regardless of what else happens, I think right now we are just maturing and understanding how we get ourselves in the right frame of mind here. As I said, we want to involve what is a great set of supporters we have here and make the whole place an emotionally driven arena because that is what brings the best out of us.
“We’re starting to get that right, but I actually think this will be quite a good test for us on Boxing Day because we have had a coupling of testing fixtures and the challenge is to come through those without feeling drained. Looking at the guys this week I do think we have come through that, but obviously the proof of the pudding will be Boxing Day.
“The guys have trained well this week, they are saying and doing the right things, and their body language and the way they are carrying themselves, it all says they know they are going to be up for a fight on Boxing Day. As always we will have to match Sale physically because that is what they pride themselves on, but if we can do that, then we can start to talk about who will win the battle.”
Team news for the Chiefs sees the starting XV boosted by the return of Ben Moon and Mitch Lees to the pack, while behind Will Chudley and Sam Hill are also back having missed out last time out. One disappointment, however, is the loss of Damian Welch to an injured pec.
Saturday’s game will also see fly-half Gareth Steenson run out for his 100th Premiership appearance for the club.
15 Phil Dollman
14 Jack Nowell
13 Ian Whitten
12 Sam Hill
11 James Short
10 Gareth Steenson
9 Will Chudley
1 Ben Moon
2 Jack Yeandle (capt)
3 Tomas Francis
4 Mitch Lees
5 Geoff Parling
6 Don Armand
7 Julian Salvi
8 Thomas Waldrom
16 Elvis Taione
17 Carl Rimmer
18 Moray Low
19 Ollie Atkins
20 Tom Johnson
21 Dave Lewis
22 Will Hooley
23 Michele Campanaro
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