Chiefs side to face Newcastle Falcons

Mark Stevens's picture
Authored by Mark Stevens
Posted Friday, February 22, 2019 - 12:22pm

Rob Baxter hopes a return to home comforts tomorrow will help provide him and his Exeter Chiefs with the perfect foundation from which to attack visiting Newcastle Falcons in the Gallagher Premiership (2:30pm).

Defeat away to Gloucester a week ago saw the Devonians surrender top spot in the division, albeit on points difference to defending champions Saracens, but Baxter believes being back on familiar surroundings can ensure normal service is resumed at the first attempt.

It's been six weeks since the Chiefs last ran out at home - that was against Castres in the Heineken Champions Cup - and Director of Rugby Baxter acknowledged there has been a real buzz around the place this week as the excitement of tackling the Falcons draws ever nearer.

"It may only be Wednesday, but already I feel the lads are ready to play at Sandy Park," said Baxter at this week's pre-match media briefing. "It's been six weeks since we were last here, which is quite a long time, and I think we are ready to put out a big, energetic and emotional performance, which hopefully will drive us to the result we want."

Although undone at Kingsholm 24-17 last time out, the Chiefs maintained their lofty position within the Premiership. The Falcons, meanwhile, remain at the foot of the table, having suffered a 30-13 loss away to Bath last Saturday.

In what has been a stark contrast to last season where the North East outfit were flying high, eventually securing a top four finish, Baxter still regards tomorrow's visitors as a proven threat - and he has warned his side they will need to be on their guard come kick-off.

"We have played against Newcastle many times and they have scored some fantastic tries against us," said Baxter. "They've also got some very threatening players, so if we don't decide to come out onto the pitch and work extremely hard, they are going to be a big threat to us.

"What we have got to decide to win is that work-rate battle and the hard work battle - because that will give us some good foundations that hopefully we can play some good rugby from."

Quizzed on the fortunes of the Falcons this season and their position in the table, Baxter continued: "Yes, I'm a little bit surprised at where they are, but sometimes it is that second or third season where things can sometimes get a little bit tough. Ultimately, they had a number of tight, good wins last season and that has reversed a bit this season where they have had some quite good performances that have resulted in some tight losses.

"Actually, there has not been too much of a turnaround, but those three or four points per game turnarounds, if you are winning and losing tight games, they can have a huge effect on your season. That in turn can then influence selection, morale and how people feel about the way you play, so there are so many things that can influence a change in fortune.

"It is very rarely down to one of two things. It won't be purely down to them having a good year last year, or them merely taking a breath, because I would imagine the whole squad wanted to push on again this season. It will be just down to everybody else really committing to playing against them and now we have to follow suit and real commit to playing well against them this weekend."

With the Chiefs shy of six frontline stars who will be featuring in the Guinness Six Nations clash between Wales and England in Cardiff, Baxter does have his playing options limited somewhat. However, he believes their absence opens the door for others to step forward and prove their worth.

"Whatever pressure we are under from international teams wanting our players, I see it as a positive pressure," added Baxter. "For me, it's great to see Exeter players involved in what looks a very successful England team this year. Personally, I hope they are going to be involved in a massive game this weekend against Wales because the bigger the games our players can be involved in, the bigger the experiences they will gain. And the more it will suit us when we want to play in big games and we need to drag ourselves through certain situations, because that will all come back to benefit us.

"Right now, what's important is that we get our heads down, work really hard and make sure that when the international players come back, it's a boost to a team who are already playing very well."

By and large Baxter sticks with the majority of those who started last week's game against Gloucester.  In the pack, Aussie international Greg Holmes replaces Tomas Francis who will start for Wales, while Don Armand returns in the back-row in place of Sean Lonsdale. Behind the scrum, Gareth Steenson gets the nod at fly-half, Ollie Devoto returns in the centre alongside Ian Whitten, while there is a new-look back three made up of returning wingers Olly Woodburn and Alex Cuthbert with Santiago Cordero switching to full-back.

15 Santiago Cordero

14 Alex Cuthbert

13 Ian Whitten

12 Ollie Devoto

11 Olly Woodburn

10 Gareth Steenson

9 Nic White

1 Alec Hepburn

2 Jack Yeandle (capt)

3 Greg Holmes

4 Dave Dennis

5 Jonny Hill

6 Dave Ewers

7 Don Armand

8 Matt Kvesic

 

16 Jack Innard

17 Billy Keast

18 Marcus Street

19 Mitch Lees

20 Sean Lonsdale

21 Jack Maunder

22 Joe Simmonds

23 Sam Hill