Preview: Exeter Chiefs v Clermont

Date published: December 11 2015

Exeter Chiefs boss Rob Baxter has made three changes to his starting XV for Saturday's Champions Cup clash with Clermont at Sandy Park.

Lock Damian Welch and blindside flank Don Armand return to the pack in place of England duo Geoff Parling and Tom Johnson, whilst in the backline Ian Whitten comes in at centre for Henry Slade, who broke his leg in last weekend's victory at Wasps.

Having kicked off their return to Europe’s top tier with defeat to the Ospreys, Exeter rediscovered their winning formula by securing a bonus-point victory at home to Bordeaux-Begles. 

That success means as they prepare to hit the halfway stage of the competition, they lie second in Pool Five behind the Welsh region who themselves came unstuck to Clermont at the Stade Marcel Michelin last time out. 

But whereas both the Ospreys and the Chiefs have already featured in two games, last season’s runners-up have only played once in the competition, this after their opening fixture against French rivals Bordeaux-Begles was postponed following the atrocities in Paris just 24 hours earlier.

It’s little wonder therefore that Baxter describes the back-to-back fixtures against the European heavyweights as ‘pivotal’ to his side’s aspirations within the tournament.

“Right now this Champions Cup pool is still a long way dead for us, but we realise this weekend is going to be pivotal in terms of how we do,” said the Chiefs head coach. 

“If we lose this weekend, it will make it very difficult for us to progress. However, if we win, then it makes it very exciting for us.

“As always we will go after the game with the strongest team we can, do everything we can to win the game and then we will roll into next week.

"For now, I just want out lads to go out and show the best of their qualities.

“Yes, there is pressure on us, particularly after losing at the Ospreys and not getting a point there.

"The truth is that you need around 17, 18 or 19 points to make it through a group if you look at previous years, so coming into your third game with just five points does put a bit of pressure on you, especially with our home fixture coming up.

“If we don’t get anything on Saturday, then with three games left you have to look at picking up three wins probably. Where are they going to come from?

“It is tough so there is a bit of pressure, but if you can’t get in the right frame of mind for Clermont Auvergne at Sandy Park with us second in the Premiership and them first in the Top 14 – well, I just can’t see that happening.”

Meanwhile, Top 14 pace-setters Clermont have made seven changes to their run-on side after last weekend's win over Brive.

Amongst the backs, there are three changes with David Strettle returning to the XV on the right wing where he replaces Noa Nakaitaci, who moves to the left wing.

Nakaitaci replaces Adrien Plante while Camille Lopez takes over from Patricio Fernandez in the only other change in the backline.

Up front, flankers Vito Kolelishvili and Peceli Yato take over from Julien Bardy and Camille Gerondeau respectively. In the second-row, Sébastien Vahaamahina and Paul Jedrasiak come in at the expense of Arthur Iturria and Jamie Cudmore while Clément Ric replaces Dan Kotze at tighthead prop.

The teams:

Exeter Chiefs: 15 Phil Dollman, 14 Jack Nowell, 13 Ian Whitten, 12 Sam Hill, 11 James Short, 10 Gareth Steenson, 9 Will Chudley, 8 Thomas Waldrom, 7 Julian Salvi, 6 Don Armand, 5 Damian Welch, 4 Mitch Lees, 3 Tomas Francis, 2 Jack Yeandle (c), 1 Ben Moon.
Replacements: 16 Elvis Taione, 17 Carl Rimmer, 18 Moray Low, 19 Geoff Parling, 20 Tom Johnson, 21 Dave Lewis, 22 Will Hooley, 23 Olly Woodburn.

Clermont: 15 Scott Spedding, 14 David Strettle, 13 Aurélien Rougerie, 12 Hosea Gear, 11 Noa Nakaitaci, 10 Camille Lopez, 9 Morgan Parra, 8 Damien Chouly, 7 Vito Kolelishvili, 6 Peceli Yato, 5 Sébastien Vahaamahina, 4 Paul Jedrasiak, 3 Clément Ric, 2 John Ulugia, 1 Thomas Domingo. 
Replacements: 16 Marthinius Van Der Westhuizen, 17 Raphael Chaume, 18 Daniel Kotze, 19 Flip Van Der Merwe, 20 Judicaël Cancoriet, 21 Ludovic Radoslavjevic, 22 Pato Fernandez, 23 Albert Vulivuli.

Date: Saturday, December 12
Venue: Sandy Park
Kick-off: 17:15 GMT
Referee: John Lacey (Ireland)
Assistant Referees: Gary Conway (Ireland), Nigel Correll (Ireland)
TMO: Simon McDowell (Ireland)