Having booked a home date with Newcastle Falcons in the last eight of this season’s European Challenge Cup with victory over Bayonne last weekend, attention at Sandy Park this week has now switched to this Sunday’s showdown with the Dragons at Rodney Parade (2:30pm).
With home wins over league rivals Gloucester and Bath already accrued in this season’s LV= Cup, the Chiefs will be looking to further cement their position at the top of Pool Four with a powerful display against their Welsh hosts this weekend.
Sunday’s match-up in the Principality is the first of back-to-back away-days for Rob Baxter’s side in the Anglo-Welsh competition and the Irish international believes the Devon club must build on their recent wins heading into the contest.
“I think we needed those two games,” said Whitten. “Thankfully we came away with two big results and that in itself gives us confidence moving forward. We had a tough period in the Premiership prior to those two games – and we had some tough losses to take – so it was important to get those wins behind us.”
As attention now switches away from both Europe and the Premiership, the 27-year-old back says the LV= Cup offers those on the periphery of the Chiefs first team squad a great opportunity to not only reminder the Exeter coaches of their proven talents, but at the same time drive the club ever closer to qualification into the last four.
“We’re going to attack the LV hard this weekend,” added the Lisburn-born star. “It’s an opportunity for a few players to give it a real rattle – and I’m sure there will be boys pushing hard to show what they can do.
“We’ve had two really good wins in Europe and now we’ve got to try and back it up in the LV, so that we can keep building momentum and get back on another big winning streak.”
But whilst the LV= Cup will be uppermost in the minds of the Chiefs this week and next, the former Ulster player says the prospect of a European quarter-final on home soil is something to savour moving forward.
“We played well, we enjoyed ourselves and we’re looking forward to a home quarter-final,” he said. “Being at home obviously gives you a better chance to qualify, but it should be a big occasion for everyone and the club and something to really look forward too.”
After a frustrating first half where the Chiefs led 11-0 thanks to an early try from Jack Nowell and two penalties from Henry Slade, Baxter’s side kick into overdrive in the second period to run out comfortable 45-3 victors.
Tries from Matt Jess, Dave Ewers, Carl Rimmer, Kai Horstmann and skipper Dean Mumm were the highlights, whilst Gareth Steenson and Slade kicked the remainder of the points.
“They [Bayonne] fought hard and their forwards turned up and really made a fight of it in first half,” explained Whitten. “We said at half-time, though, we needed to be patient and in the end we ground them down, especially in the last 20 minutes, and it told as we ran in a few scores.”