Exeter Chiefs head coach Ali Hepher says he and his squad are “excited” at the challenge that awaits them when they travel to Saracens in Round Nine of this season’s Aviva Premiership on Sunday (3pm).
The Chiefs claimed pole position in the league standings a week ago when they not only made the most of Sarries slipping up at Gloucester, but they then themselves recorded a 31-17 home win over Harlequins 48 hours later.
Although not at their vintage best in seeing off Harlequins - the Chiefs trailed 17-14 at the break - the reigning champions regrouped well during the interval to overcome the slender deficit and power their way to a sixth league win of the season.
Hepher admitted at the final whistle that it had taken his side 40 minutes to “blow the cobwebs out” following a two-week rest period for the majority of those in action. However, he said he saw enough in that display to encourage him ahead of this weekend’s top of the table tussle in the capital.
“Ultimately you can’t replace those match minutes - and they will be invaluable going into a big game like this weekend,” he said. “We’ve tweaked a few areas that cost us last week, like a few forced offloads, some handling errors and just our slow speed to the breakdown, but they are easy fixes for us. A lot of what we did last week was very good and we scored some quality tries.
“To pick up four tries and a bonus point, we must have being doing a lot of things right in the game, so we shouldn’t forget that. It’s those little bits on top you want to really get right. Harlequins are a quality side at the end of the day, so any victory in the Premiership you have to cherish.”
This Sunday, however, the Chiefs can expect another ferocious on-field test against the reigning European champions. Having lost to Gloucester a week ago, plus the memory of last season’s semi-final loss at Sandy Park still firmly etched in the memory bank, Saracens are sure to be looking to make a statement of intent this weekend.
“Playing Sarries at any stage of the season is always exciting,” added Hepher. “They have quality across the board and are a very good side. That said, this week is a good opportunity for us to stamp our mark on the league a bit more
“What we have to do, however, is make sure we go up there, turn up in the right frame of mind, and look to enforce as much of our game on them as we can. We know the kind of threats they bring to the game and where they are strong, but equally we know where we can possibly find areas to cause them problems.
“Yes, it’s a massive game for both sides, but that’s how it should be. The important thing is that we get things right and that we put in a good performance. If we do that and we’re performing well, then we will put ourselves in a good position to get something out of the game.”
Team news ahead of kick-off for the Chiefs sees the visitors make two changes in the pack. Aussie international Greg Holmes comes in at tight-head for Moray Low, while Matt Kvesic gets his first Premiership start in Exeter colours, replacing Julian Salvi in the back-row. Behind, there is just one change in personnel with Sam Hill giving the nod at inside centre alongside Ian Whitten.
On the bench, Shaun Malton offers back-up to skipper Jack Yeandle at hooker, while Hill’s elevation into the starting line-up means his void is filled by former Saracens winger James Short, who this week became a dad for the first time.
CHIEFS SIDE TO FACE SARACENS
15 Phil Dollman
14 Lachie Turner
13 Ian Whitten
12 Sam Hill
11 Olly Woodburn
10 Gareth Steenson
9 Nic White
1 Ben Moon
2 Jack Yeandle (capt)
3 Greg Holmes
4 Mitch Lees
5 Jonny Hill
6 Don Armand
7 Matt Kvesic
8 Thomas Waldrom
16 Shaun Malton
17 Alec Hepburn
18 Moray Low
19 Toby Salmon
20 Sam Skinner
21 Will Chudley
22 Joe Simmonds
23 James Short
Member since: 5th January 2016
Hi, I am Mark Stevens, Media and Communications Manager for the Exeter Chiefs