Rob Baxter has warned his Exeter Chiefs side to be wary of a ‘wounded animal’ ahead of tomorrow’s visit off Bath Rugby to Sandy Park in Round Two of the Gallagher Premiership (5:30pm).
Whilst Baxter’s side kicked off their title defence with an impressive 33-3 victory on the road at Harlequins, Bath were picked off 19-12 by newly-promoted Newcastle Falcons, who were playing their first league fixture since March.
That loss, coupled with the fact that Bath were defeated by the Chiefs in last season’s Premiership semi-final - the last game played at Sandy Park - means Baxter has spent part of this week outlining to his players to expect a response of sorts come kick-off.
“Obviously, they’ll be a wounded animal,” said the Chiefs’ Director of Rugby. “They’ll be burning from losing the semi-final here and they’ll be hurting from last week too. That’s not taking anything away from Newcastle, but right or wrongly, there was an assumption they they [Newcastle] could be a little off the pace having not played for so long.
“Instead, they showed that they had prepared fantastically well and that they were ready to go. That’s great news from a Premiership perspective, but I am sure Bath will be hurting with that. They will want to put things right as quickly as possible, so that’s why this weekend is an interesting challenge for us. Unlike them, we’re not hurting, we’re feeling good about ourselves, so it will be an interesting emotional challenge for both sides.”
Picking up from where they lifted the Premiership title just 27 days earlier, the Chiefs certainly impressed in their seasonal opener at The Stoop. Although only 7-3 up at the turn, it was a powerful second half showing from the visitors, which included four tries, which created the headlines post-match.
Chiefs TV: Rob Baxter's pre-match press conference ahead of our clash with Bath
Not surprisingly, Baxter was quick to praise the performance, adding: “I was very impressed with the players. I was impressed with how they trained in the build-up to the game, and I was really impressed with the performance on the day. What I liked was how the guys stuck at things, especially when it was in those tough moments.
“Whatever people think about the final scoreline, Quins had their own game plan and they made it tough for us to get into the game, so we had to do a lot of things right in that middle third of the field, especially around our kick game and our chase game. Our discipline and our set-piece, that was fantastic, and it was all those elements which gave us the toe hold into the game, which eventually paid dividends later on.
“As I said to the guys afterwards, that takes a lot of credit. When it’s tough, when it’s tight on the scoreboard, sometimes there will be someone who will try and make something happen because they feel they have to. That can be dangerous and out you in trouble. What our guys did was, they stuck to the game plan and they worked exceptionally hard. Now, I’m worried about this week.
“I say that because I wasn’t sure if last week would be a wake-up call that would snap us into the new season. That wasn’t the case at all, we turned up at Harlequins and we performed like a double-winning side. We went there with a big target on our backs and Harlequins, as you would expect, came hard at us. However, we deal with it well and we will need to deal with it just as well this weekend.”
With Baxter still without a number of his frontline stars due to either international commitments or injury, he did receive a boost earlier this week when Scottish internationals Sam Skinner and Sam Hidalgo-Clyne were released from their national camp to take their place in tomorrow’s match-day squad.
Both have featured for Gregor Townsend’s Scotland side in recent weeks, but their match minutes have been somewhat limited and he has granted them permission to play after their scheduled Autumn Nations Cup clash with Fiji was called off due to a Covid-19 outbreak in the Islanders camp.
Skinner is brought straight back into the starting mix, replacing Will Witty in the second-row alongside Don Armand. Witty drops to the bench, where he will be joined by Hidalgo-Clyne. The other change in personnel sees Ben Moon come in at loosehead with Alec Hepburn on the replacements bench, alongside Jack Innard and Jack Walsh, both of whom are added from last week’s side.
15 Facundo Cordero
14 Tom O’Flaherty
13 Ian Whitten
12 Ollie Devoto
11 Olly Woodburn
10 Joe Simmonds
9 Jack Maunder
1 Ben Moon
2 Jack Yeandle (capt)
3 Harry Williams
4 Don Armand
5 Sam Skinner
6 Dave Ewers
7 Jannes Kirsten
8 Sam Simmonds
16 Jack Innard
17 Alec Hepburn
18 Marcus Street
19 Will Witty
20 Richard Capstick
21 Sam Hidalgo-Clyne
22 Jack Walsh
23 Tom Hendrickson