As Exeter Chiefs chase a fourth successive appearance in the Anglo-Welsh Cup final, skills coach Ricky Pellow insists lessons have been learnt from past experiences within the competition.
Despite reaching the past three finals, the Chiefs have lifted the trophy just once, that was back in 2014 against Northampton Saints, and have since narrowly lost to Saracens and Leicester Tigers in the subsequent years.
It’s a statistic Pellow and his players are keen to balance up this year, but overcoming visiting Newcastle Falcons on Sunday at Sandy Park (1pm) will be no easy task.
The North East outfit are arguably the form team in the top flight this season and their victory at Gloucester last weekend lifted them into the top four with just five rounds of the regular Premiership season remaining. Pellow is well aware of the threat they pose to his side and has issued a timely note of warning to his players.
“Newcastle are probably the form team of the Premiership at the moment,” said the Cornishman. “They have strengthened well, so whatever side they bring down here at the weekend, we know we are in for one hell of a game and that we will have to be on our money to get a result.”
After a sticky period, however, the Chiefs themselves have rediscovered their winning formula and back-to-back victories over Northampton and Saracens in the Premiership have seen the defending champions move seven points clear at the summit.
Pellow admits the ‘feel-good factor’ has returned within the ranks and he’s hoping that his players can maintain their form and down the flying Falcons.
“It’s been a big couple of weeks for us,” added Pellow. “We knew we had not been performing as well as we know we can, but to get a result against Northampton - and to then back it up last week, playing like we know we can against Saracens, it was massively pleasing for all of us.
“You could see what last week’s result meant and the feeling we had after the game. It looked much more like the Exeter Chiefs everyone knows. Not only did we go after everything, but we kept it simple, we ran hard, we were physical and we just shut Saracens down at every opportunity. This weekend, albeit with a slightly different group of players, we need to show those same characteristics.
“If we do, then I am confident that we have the game plan and the personnel in place to push Newcastle all the way and hopefully get ourselves through to another final.”
The Chiefs will be buoyed by the news that Australian international Dave Dennis is fit and raring to go for the first time since September. The form Waratahs star has been sidelined with a bicep injury for much of the campaign, but he returns to action in the back-row and will skipper Exeter for the first time.
Dennis helps provides a powerful spine to the Chiefs line-up and is joined in the Chiefs pack by experienced stars such as Moray Low, Greg Holmes, Mitch Lees, Wilhelm Van Der Sluys, Julian Salvi and Matt Kvesic.
Behind, Stu Townsend and Joe Simmonds will head up the game plan at half-backs, while Ollie Devoto and Ian Whitten form a powerful midfield pairing outside of them. The back three is made up of Tom O’Flaherty, James Short and Argentinian international Santiago Cordero, who will line-up at full-back for the first time.
“It’s a strong squad,” Pellow continued. “We are faced with an opportunity to reach a first final of the year and our selection will reflect that. What we will take into account is that there are some players who need game-time and we will add a few of the academy players in there as well.
“If players need game-time or are coming back from injury and need to force themselves into that Premiership squad, they’ll be involved. When you are winning and enjoying your rugby, you want to play, so some of the guys at the weekend will play.”
Pellow also hinted that strong displays this weekend and, hopefully next week, can also boost the selection hopes of players ahead of Exeter’s return to Premiership action against Bath on March 23.
“We saw last season with Sam Simmonds, he banged in two solid games in this competition and then all of sudden he had a run of Premiership games, which led all the way to winning the league. Since then, he’s continued that run and this weekend he’s on the bench for England over in France.
“As I said, it’a big opportunity for all the guys, not just to push for a place in the final and more honours, but for a number of other reasons as well. The buzz around the place this week has been good and I know we’re all massively excited about the game at the weekend.”
Tickets for Sunday’s clash are still available online through the Exeter Chiefs website, so don’t delay and help #packthepark this weekend.
15 Santiago Cordero
14 Tom O’Flaherty
13 Ian Whitten
12 Ollie Devoto
11 James Short
10 Joe Simmonds
9 Stu Townsend
1 Moray Low
2 Jack Innard
3 Greg Holmes
4 Mitch Lees
5 Wilhelm Van Der Sluys
6 Dave Dennis (capt)
7 Julian Salvi
8 Matt Kvesic
16 Paul Davis
17 James Kenny
18 Jack Owlett
19 Toby Salmon
20 Kai Horstmann
21 Will Chudley
22 Sam Morley
23 Tom Hendrickson