Rob Baxter says he expects to see a response of sorts from his Exeter Chiefs side in the wake of last weekend’s Aviva Premiership defeat at home to Worcester Warriors.
The reigning champions not only slipped to a second successive league defeat in their 6-5 reverse, but at the same time saw their lengthy unbeaten home record in the top flight – which dates back to October 2016 – come to an abrupt end.
Now, the Chiefs Director of Rugby is looking for his team to bounce back at the first attempt in their top four clash with arch rivals Wasps on Sunday at the Ricoh Arena (3pm).
“I’ve never been someone to over-react to a one-off result, good or bad,” said Baxter. “At the same time, we have to make sure we don’t under-react and say everything is OK because a performance like we had last weekend showed that a few things were not right.
“We’ve not just looked at how the players prepared or performed, but as a coaching staff we’ve looked closely at ourselves and asked serious questions about whether or not we were driving the quality and the preparations to the level we should have been.
“We’ve talked a lot about various things this week, implemented one or two things, and had a good training week. That, however, is only part one of the challenge, the next part is we train well every day and with the intensity required because when it comes to match-day, we need to show genuine toughness and intensity, as well as the fight to get on with things.”
Baxter’s frustrations with last weekend’s performance were clear to see, not just post-game, but also in his weekly media briefing where he described the whole day as “disappointing.”
“There has been a little bit of annoyance, but for all the right reasons,” he added. “Not because we lost a game of Premiership rugby, that happens and teams play well. It’s more we were frustrated with our own level of performance, which didn’t have the quality and the energy of what we are used to.
“That has created an interesting training week and one which, quite rightly, should hurt a bit. It’s also acted as a reminder to show how well we have to prepare and how much you have to commit on match-days. If that serves as a nice reminder at this time of year of what we have to do, then let’s make sure it acts as a positive for us.”
Next up for the Chiefs are Wasps, a side who still hold firm the memories of last May when Baxter’s side denied them of Premiership glory in the final at Twickenham. Since then, the Devonians have won again, defeating the Midlanders 31-17 at Sandy Park back in September.
However, Dai Young’s side are one of the form teams of the Premiership currently and Baxter is duly wary of the threat they pose to his team.
“They are a hugely threatening team,” continued Baxter. “We’ve had some fantastic games against them in recent times and none of them have ever been a 6-3 boring contest. Right now, it’s a big challenge for us. They are one of the form teams in the league and we have to make sure we get to the level we need to be at to challenge them.
“Going away to Wasps, a fellow top four contender, is a huge occasion and one that we have to fight for. It will be tough, but you expect that. We know we need to throw everything into the game which, if we do that, I know has brought us success before.
“We’re heading into a block of games which, you could effectively say, are eight-pointers. Not only can we try and collect points that will help us, but at the same time you can deny a rival around you getting something at the same time. If we get them this weekend, then that will be a huge advantage to us moving forward. It will be the same when we play Saracens in a few weeks’ time, and it will be the same when we play Bath in a similar scenario after that.
“Us collecting points now can have a huge effect come the end of the season, so it will be an extra motivating factor for us heading into the game. What we have to do, however, is make sure we use that motivation in the right manner.”
Ahead of kick-off, Baxter has made a number of changes to his side from that which lost to the Warriors last time out. Props Alec Hepburn and Tomas Francis are both back from international duty and start alongside Luke Cowan-Dickie in the front-row.
Behind, Julian Salvi makes his first Premiership start since the Harlequins game back in November, while Will Chudley comes in at scrum-half to replace new-dad Nic White. The only other change in the back division sees Ollie Devoto trade place with Ian Whitten in the Exeter midfield.
On the bench, hooker Jack Innard gets his first-ever involvement in a Premiership squad, while Sam Skinner has recovered from a broken hand to offer extra bulk in the engine room, and Stu Townsend offers back-up to Chudley at half-back.
15 Lachie Turner
14 Santiago Cordero
13 Ollie Devoto
12 Sam Hill
11 Olly Woodburn
10 Gareth Steenson (capt)
9 Will Chudley
1 Alec Hepburn
2 Luke Cowan-Dickie
3 Tomas Francis
4 Mitch Lees
5 Jonny Hill
6 Dave Ewers
7 Julian Salvi
8 Don Armand
16 Jack Innard
17 Ben Moon
18 Greg Holmes
19 Sam Skinner
20 Thomas Waldrom
21 Stu Townsend
22 Joe Simmonds
23 Ian Whitten
Member since: 5th January 2016
Hi, I am Mark Stevens, Media and Communications Manager for the Exeter Chiefs