Hepher targets Big Start to Season
11th July 2014
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After last season's impressive campaign, which included the Devon club lifting their first piece of major silverware when taking the LV= Cup in March, expectations amongst the playing group have been raised another notch during the first few weeks of pre-season.

The emergence of a number of Exeter's highly-rated youngsters, together with more game time for others within the group, mean the Chiefs will have a much battle-hardened group within their midst when the rigours of the Aviva Premiership and European Rugby get underway come September.

"The turnaround in the team and the transition in the team last season was huge," explained Hepher. "Yet, we still got a good, high level of performance out of what was essentially a new bunch of players. I think what we are excited by ahead of this season is how far we can go with all of them.

"They are a young group, but they've had a good year of playing at the top end of the game. Of course there will be learning processes we have to take on throughout the season, but in the long term things are looking good for us. I'm sure those guys will be more comfortable within the Premiership environment, but at the same time they can't rest on their laurels and think they've made it.  Across the board we have great competition within the squad it will be the best guys who will get the slot."

It has been the emergence of young players such as Jack Nowell, Luke Cowan-Dickie, Dave Ewers, Ben Moon, Sam Hill, Alex Brown and Henry Slade that has meant head coach Rob Baxter has not had to go out this summer and conduct a massive overhaul in terms of his squad.

Instead, Baxter has to date added just seven new arrivals to the Chiefs and is happy to once again continue with a large nucleus of last season's squad.

Hepher has been impressed by the way the whole squad has reported back in for pre-season and insists the recent bonding trip to Spain had once again allowed the newcomers to quickly settle into their new surroundings.

"The guys are working exceptionally well and it's been good for us to be down at the University of Exeter," he continued. "It's something fresh for all of us and the guys have applied themselves really well. Of course there is lots of work to do ahead, but from from a start point I'd say we are relatively happy.

"We had a good trip in pre-season, one which allowed the new guys to get to know the rest of the squad, but now we're full steam ahead. The group are now fully integrated and they are working hard. Having the guys come in and turn up in good nick obviously helps, but hopefully we can get even more out of them before the start of the season."

As part of the build-up to Exeter's fifth year in the Aviva Premiership, the Chiefs will engage in three pre-season friendlies against Cardiff Blues, Ulster and Worcester Warriors. Hepher knows the three games - all of which will be away from home due to the current redevelopment works at Sandy Park - will offer stern tests for his side, but he expects the players to rise to the occasion.

"The games will not only give us different things to look at, but they'll give us a good shot at getting our away form right from the outset," said Hepher. "Playing on Friday nights means we have to juggle the schedule a little  bit, but it will give us a good chance to look at the whole squad over that period and then it will be places up for grabs amongst all the guys."

The Chiefs kick-off their Premiership campaign on Sunday, September 7 when they travel to newly-promoted London Welsh, a side who defeated them on their last trip to the Kassam in English rugby's top flight two seasons ago.

Hepher is well aware of the threat posed by the Exiles, who have used the close season to bolster their own ranks with a number of high-profile arrivals.

"It doesn't matter when we play them, they [Welsh] will be a tough side to face," warned Hepher. "We lost up there a couple of years ago, so we are under no illusions what sort of task is in front of us. For them it will be their first game back in the Premiership, so I've no doubt they'll want to hit the ground running the same as us.

"All we can focus on is making sure we have our act in order and that our mentality is in the right place. As always we will go up there ready to attack and get after the game. If we do that and our mentality is right, then as coaches we'll be happy. As I said, though, we obviously can't rest on our laurels because they are recruiting some good players."

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Dave B

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