Exeter Chiefs boss Rob Baxter has made just one change to his starting XV for Saturday’s clash with Gloucester at Sandy Park.
Baxter sticks with an unchanged back division from that which faced Bath last time out, whilst up front a knock to Damian Welch’s knee means he misses out and is replaced by Mitch Lees in the second row.
On the bench, Kai Hortsmann is struggling with a neck complaint, so Ben White comes into the mix, as does young lock Jerry Sexton, who features in a Premiership squad for the first time.
Also included is Byron McGuigan, who is given the nod over Fetu’u Vainikolo.
Despite back-to-back defeats over the festive period to Sale Sharks and Bath, Baxter knows his team have never been in a better position to attack the second half of the season.
Baxter knows this is the time when the big teams start to make their move at the top end and he is hoping the sell-out crowd of over 12,000 will provide the spark to re-ignite Exeter’s campaign after two tough away days.
“I know we’ve only been away for a couple of weeks, but it does feel a bit longer what with the Christmas period and the amount of travelling we’ve had to do,” he said.
“I suppose the disappointment of some of the things that have happened, I guess it’s nice to come back home and strive to keep our home record going.
“To have a sell-out crowd; it be the start of a New Year and the start of the second half of Premiership fixtures; it all adds up be an important fixture for us.
“In some ways this is our festive game and we’re very much looking forward to it. I know the lads love playing here at Sandy Park and we’ve played well here both in the Premiership and the other competitions.
“As I said, we’re very much looking forward to getting back here, not to set the record straight as such, but more set our level of performance to where we want it to be. I thought a lot of what we did against Bath last week was very good.
“For 55, 60 minutes, away from home, and there be nothing in the game is a good achievement. What we have to do – and we’ve talked about it this week – is nudge ourselves over the line and make the next two or three things go your way.
“Bath did that very well and made those little things go their way and they stole the momentum of the game. We have to learn from that and experience is a big part of that learning process for us.”
Meanwhile, Tongan international wing David Halaifonua will make his first start for Gloucester.
Halaifonua will start on the right wing at Sandy Park with Charlie Sharples moving to full-back in one of three changes to the team that started against Wasps last weekend.
The other two changes are in the pack, where Darren Dawidiuk starts at hooker and Ben Morgan, who was confirmed as having signed a new contract with the club on Friday morning, returns at number eight.
Head Coach Laurie Fisher stressed the need for Gloucester to start to finish off close games, such as the one against Exeter at Kingsholm earlier this season.
“We’re obviously disappointed with where we are in the table,” he said.
“It’s come about because of our inability to close out close games. That’s our challenge in the second half of the season, to turn those close games into wins.
“We finished the game strongly against them (Exeter) at home earlier in the season and had a real opportunity to close that game out which we didn’t take.
“Our major concern is about ourselves so we haven’t made too much of the fact that they’ve lost their last two games. Except they’re probably hungry for a win at home.
“We need to be disciplined, to get on the right side of the referee, to make sure all those things are in place.
“The first round was three tries to one to us and we lose the game. We have to make sure we’re squeaky clean in everything we do.”
Form: Exeter Chiefs have slipped to back-to-back defeats at Sale and at Bath, but have not lost three in a row in Aviva Premiership Rugby since February. The Chiefs have won their last eight fixtures at Sandy Park in all tournaments since Leicester beat them there in Premiership Rugby on 13 September. Gloucester have also lost their last two encounters, at home to Bath and at home to Wasps, whilst their only victory in the last six rounds of Aviva Premiership Rugby came when they visited London Irish on 30 November. Gloucester have won three of their last four away games in all competitions. The Chiefs have narrowly beaten Gloucester twice this season, 25-22 in Premiership Rugby at Kingsholm in September and 28-27 at Sandy Park in the Anglo-Welsh Cup in November. Gloucester have been victorious in two of their five previous visits to Sandy Park in all competitions.
Exeter: 15 Phil Dollman, 14 Jack Nowell, 13 Henry Slade, 12 Sam Hill, 11 Matt Jess, 10 Gareth Steenson, 9 Will Chudley, 8 Thomas Waldrom, 7 Don Armand, 6 Dave Ewers, 5 Mitch Lees, 4 Dean Mumm (c), 3 Moray Low, 2 Jack Yeandle, 1 Ben Moon.
Replacements: 16 Luke Cowan-Dickie, 17 Carl Rimmer, 18 Tomas Francis, 19 Jerry Sexton, 20 Ben White, 21 Haydn Thomas, 22 Ian Whitten, 23 Byron McGuigan.
Gloucester: 15 Charlie Sharples, 14 David Halaifonua, 13 Mark Atkinson, 12 Billy Twelvetrees (c), 11 Jonny May, 10 James Hook, 9 Greig Laidlaw, 8 Ben Morgan, 7 Matt Kvesic, 6 Sione Kalamafoni, 5 Tom Palmer, 4 Tom Savage, 3 John Afoa, 2 Darren Dawidiuk, 1 Nick Wood.
Replacements: 16 Aleki Lutui, 17 Yann Thomas, 18 Shaun Knight, 19 Elliott Stooke, 20 Gareth Evans, 21 Dan Robson, 22 Billy Burns, 23 Bill Meakes.
Date: Saturday, 3 January
Venue: Sandy Park
Kick-off: 16.30 GMT
Referee: Tim Wigglesworth
Assistant referees: Luke Pearce and Robin Goodliffe
Television match official: Keith Lewis