Preview: Exeter v London Irish

Date published: April 12 2013

Exeter Chiefs boss Rob Baxter has made two changes to his starting XV for Saturday's clash with London Irish at Sandy Park.

Exeter Chiefs boss Rob Baxter has made two changes to his starting XV for Saturday's Premiership clash with London Irish at Sandy Park.

Brett Sturgess returns in the front row at the expense of Carl Rimmer, whilst Ben White is given the nod over Dave Ewers in the back row.

With the Chiefs still in contention for a play-off berth, motivation will not be an issue, neither should fitness within the home camp after the Chiefs were without a game last weekend following their exit from Europe.

For Baxter, the clash with the Exiles is one he is clearly relishing as he aims to get his club back playing amongst Europe's elite teams next season.

“We're in a nice position at the moment,” he said.

“We're coming up on the rails of a few teams above us and we are making a bit of a late run.

“We did that last season when some good results right at the end drove us up fifth place – and now we need to show that same kind of ambition again.

“This week we've talked about going after it again and not resting on our laurels and thinking it's been a nice season again.

“Yes, it has been a good season and we've beaten some fantastic teams along the way. Our Premiership record – especially at home – is good, but that doesn't count for too much if you don't stay ambitious and want to achieve more.

“At the minute, things are within our grasp, but there are still lots of points still to be gathered.

“What we have to do now is put together three big performances; work hard and show a good competitive edge this weekend, else it will slip away very quickly.”

Certainly the Chiefs will tackle the Exiles in buoyant mood having claimed a good away win at Worcester Warriors last time out, as well a 27-23 win in the corresponding fixture against Irish at the Madejski Stadium back in November.

That was one of 12 defeats Irish have suffered in a disappointing league campaign that has seen them battling at the wrong end of the table.

In recent weeks, however, their form has improved significantly and with the threat of the drop effectively gone, Baxter has issued a pre-match warning of the threat the visitors pose to his side this weekend.

“They [Irish] have been involved in a bit of a dog fight all season, where every point's vital,” added Baxter.

“As the season has gone on the games have been more pressurised, especially prior to London Welsh getting the points deduction, and their last few games have been relegation battles for them and those are big pressurised environments.

“When you break out of that, as London Irish have now done, you can press on and really enjoy the rest of the season, try a few new things, develop your game and look to take a few scalps along the way. We've done that in the past.

“In our first season in the Premiership, once we got ourselves safe, we really enjoyed the final part of the season and played some really good rugby.
“And what we've said to the guys this week is that we have to challenge ourselves to have an ambition that is greater than that of Irish.

“We know they are a very good side and pose a lot of danger to us, but I've got to expect our motivation to be very high because of the potential things we're fighting for.

“All I want to see is a group of highly-motivated players playing as well as they can. You can't ask for too much more than that.”

Meanwhile, Jebb Sinclair and Topsy Ojo will both line up for London Irish this weekend.

Flanker Sinclair returns to the run-on side along with wing Ojo, who was rested for the Exiles' last Aviva Premiership fixture against Sale Sharks. Leo Halavatau starts on the tighthead and Darren Allinson will partner Ian Humphreys in the halves. Alex Corbisiero returns from injury to be named as a replacement.

London Irish director of rugby Brian Smith expects a difficult assignement against the Chiefs.

“Exeter are a good side and very tough at Sandy Park. We have had an extra week to prepare for this match and we're looking forward to the challenge down there.”

Form: Exeter Chiefs only defeat in their last four matches was 9-12 at home to Leicester on 23rd March. The only previous occasion that Exeter have lost back-to-back Premiership ties at Sandy Park came in November 2011.London Irish have suffered just one loss in their last four encounters: 14-40 at Northampton on 2 March. The Exiles have won just once on the road in the Premiership this season, 18-12 at Gloucester in round 13. Exeter's only two victories over London Irish in competitive rugby have both come in their last two encounters. The Exiles have visited Sandy Park just twice before, winning once 12-9 in October 2010.

The teams:

Exeter: 15 Luke Arscott, 14 Jack Nowell, 13 Phil Dollman, 12 Jason Shoemark, 11 Matt Jess, 10 Gareth Steenson, 9 Haydn Thomas, 8 Richard Baxter (c), 7 James Scaysbrook, 6 Ben White, 5 Damian Welch, 4 Dean Mumm, 3 Hoani Tui, 2 Jack Yeandle, 1 Brett Sturgess.
Replacements: 16 Chris Whitehead, 17 Carl Rimmer, 18 Craig Mitchell, 19 Aly Muldowney, 20 Dave Ewers, 21 Will Chudley, 22 Henry Slade, 23 Ian Whitten.

London Irish: 15 Tom Homer, 14 Topsy Ojo, 13 Guy Armitage, 12 Shane Geraghty, 11, Sailosi Tagicakibau, 10 Ian Humphreys, 9 Darren Allinson, 8 Ofisa Treviranus, 7 Jebb Sinclair, 6 Matt Garvey, 5 Bryn Evans, 4 George Skivington (c), 3 Leo Halavatau, 2 David Paice, 1 Max Lahiff.
Replacements: 16 Scott Lawson, 17 Alex Corbisiero, 18 Halani Aulika, 19 Kieran Low, 20 Jamie Gibson, 21 Jonathan Joseph, 22 Marland Yarde, 23 Jack Moates.

Date: Saturday, April 13
Venue: Sandy Park, Exeter
Kick-off: 15.00
Referee: Martin Fox
Assistant referees: Paul Dix, Andrew Pear