Exeter Chiefs side to face Bath

Mark Stevens
Authored by Mark Stevens
Posted Friday, March 6, 2020 - 12:38pm

Ali Hepher has challenged his Exeter Chiefs side to finish this latest four-game block in the Gallagher Premiership on a high note with victory over visiting Bath at Sandy Park tomorrow (2:30pm).

Having accrued decent victories over Gloucester and Northampton Saints, the table-topping Chiefs were undone at the death last weekend as Harlequins secured a 34-30 victory, courtesy of a penalty try deep into added on time.

Despite the defeat, the Chiefs still lead the way after 12 rounds of battle and Head Coach Hepher is hoping that lofty position remains firmly in place following their Westcountry showdown against fifth-placed Bath.

"Look, it's always exciting when it's a local derby," said Hepher. "It is one of those games in the season that you really look forward to. But, like any Premiership game, it's going to be tough and it's going to be a tight old battle, just as we found out last week. What we have to make sure is that we are on the money from minute one come Saturday."

Certainly, the Chiefs will be looking to replicate their last home showing, when they ruthlessly swept aside the challenge of Northampton Saints, running in eight tries during a 57-7 victory.

Hepher admitted that a detailed debrief had taken place – as it always does – in the wake of last weekend's loss, and that he was expecting to see a response of sorts from his squad.

"We've looked at last weekend in detail and we've picked out clear opportunities where we could have not only taken charge of the game, but also kept the opposition at bay," explained Hepher. "I guess our issue was we didn't take those opportunities at the right time.

"We gave away too many penalties in the middle third, which in turn allowed them to push us back in our 22 and then put pressure on us. Had we been a little more disciplined and a little stronger mentally in those areas, then we could easily have got more from the game.

"What we need to do now is regroup and look to return to producing another good performance. It was only a few weeks' ago that we put in a cracking performance here against Northampton, so let's not get carried away, let's reset ourselves, and let's be prepared to work hard."

Standing in the way of the Chiefs, however, will be a Bath outfit, who although defeated on home turf by arch rivals Bristol Bears last Sunday, had won their three previous league fixtures.

Add into the mix that they also turned the Devonians over in Round Two of this year's competition, it's little wonder that Hepher has spent much of the week outlining the threat posed to his side.

"Bath are a very good side and they've won a lot of games this year," he warned. "As always, we expect a tough game, a physical game and they'll be really confrontational. What we have to do is not only match them in all those areas, but better them.

"We know there are areas in our game that we still need to improve. As good as the Northampton performance was, we can still be better and that's the challenge. WE don't set specific levels as such, but what we do ask is that guys perform to the best of their abilities and that they give everything to the cause.

"First and foremost with all of that is our mentality. We've got to make sure we are in the right frame of mind to go after the game, attack the game, and put our work ethic into the game."

And heading up the Chiefs once more will be young fly-half Joe Simmonds, who again takes on the role of lead playmaker, as well as captain. Hepher says he's pleased with how his No.10 is developing week by week.

"Joe is doing very well for us, but equally there are still elements of his game that we need to work on with him," added Hepher, himself a Premiership fly-half back in his playing days.

"What you get with Joe, though, is a real threat in attack. We saw that last week, not just with his control and his footwork, but he scored two fantastic tries and his goalkicking is second to none right now. He's still learning parts of the leadership side of his role, but he's got great guys in and around him, all of whom are willing to help.

"Guys like Nic White and Ian Whitten offer great help and Dave Ewers is another who is really stepping up on the leadership side of things. We don't want it that Joe shoulders the whole ship as such, but each week you can see and you can hear he is becoming more vocal in everything he does."

Simmonds lines up tomorrow in an unchanged Exeter back division, but there are changes up front with England international Harry Williams returning at tight-head in place of Enrique Pieretto, while Jonny Hill returns to the starting line-up with Sam Skinner away on international duty with Scotland.

Pieretto is added to the bench, alongside fellow prop Ben Moon, while summer signing Will Witty offers back-up to the Exeter engine room. The only other change sees England and British Lions back Jack Nowell figure in a Chiefs squad for the first time since mid-January.

15 Phil Dollman

14 Tom O'Flaherty

13 Ian Whitten

12 Tom Hendrickson

11 Olly Woodburn

10 Joe Simmonds (capt)

9 Nic White

1 Alec Hepburn

2 Elvis Taione

3 Harry Williams

4 Jannes Kirsten

5 Jonny Hill

6 Dave Ewers

7 Jacques Vermeulen

8 Sam Simmonds


16 Jordon Poole

17 Ben Moon

18 Enrique Pieretto

19 Will Witty

20 Don Armand

21 Jack Maunder

22 Gareth Steenson

23 Jack Nowell

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