Coach Rob Baxter hopes Exeter can deliver him some early Christmas cheer by claiming victory in their clash with Worcester.
Rob Baxter hopes Exeter can deliver him some early Christmas cheer by claiming victory in their clash with Worcester at Sandy Park on Saturday.
Not since March 2004 at the old County Ground have the two clubs come face-to-face in league combat. At that time Baxter was skipper of a Chiefs side, which although defeated 25-14, included younger brother Richard and Samoan centre Dale Rasmussen, the latter of whom will be playing and leading the Warriors.
Since that game the Warriors went on to establish themselves as a regular within English rugby's top flight – that was until the 2009/10 season when they dropped out of the Premiership at the expense of the Chiefs, who were promoted following their win over Bristol in the first ever Championship Play-Off final.
But with both sides now amongst the English elite, the age-old rivalry between the two is set to be renewed and Baxter is relishing the prospect.
“I think the last time we played them in the league I was playing, so it shows we haven't played them for a while,” said the Exeter coach.
“That said, I think Saturday's game will be interesting. Both teams are coming in off the back of a win last week and it just adds that little bit of extra spice because both ourselves and Worcester will know when you double up Premiership victories, something quite special happens and all of a sudden you are jumping up the league.”
Whilst Worcester were claiming their third win of the season at home to Bath a week ago, the Chiefs produced one of the greatest comebacks in Premiership history as they overcame a 23-7 deficit at half-time against Sale to win an absorbing encounter 30-23.
“If you look at the table it shows how competitive the Premiership really is,” said Baxter.
“At one stage we hadn't won for a few games, yet we won last Friday and all of a sudden we were in third place. Aside from that, the other key for us this week is that we want to cement our good home record. To do that, though, you have to put in the hard work; you have to get the crowd involved in the fixture and you have to play well and with total commitment. If we do that, then I know we are good side and we give ourselves every chance.”
Baxter knows, however, that the Warriors will be just as committed to the cause in what is the last set of Premiership fixtures before the festive period – and has warned his players they can ill afford to have another start like that which they experienced at Sale.
As part of Exeter's plan for the game, the Chiefs have made three changes to their starting line-up from that which won last time out. In the front row, Welsh international Craig Mitchell is handed his first-ever Premiership start at the expense of Hoani Tui, whilst the half-backs are also changed with Haydn Thomas and Ignacio Mieres replacing Pat Phibbs and Gareth Steenson. Fly-half Mieres was dubbed the hero at Sale as it was his try 40 seconds from time that ensured Exeter of only their second away win of the season.
“I don't mind saying we have a lot of disappointed players here right now because they all feel they are playing well and they want to get involved in the big games. However, it's always going to be like that if you have a strong squad and you stay injury free. Obviously it's something for us as a management to deal with, but it's something the players have to deal with as well because they need to and stay hungry and focused,” said Baxter about his XV.
Meanwhile, prop Bruce Douglas and lock James Percival are both recalled to the Worcester starting line-up as they make the journey south to face Exeter.
Head Coach Richard Hill has made two changes to his pack as Douglas replaces Matt Mullan in the front row to join Ed Shervington and Tevita Taumoepeau.
Percival returns at lock, where he lines up alongside Craig Gillies, a move that means Chris Jones can move to number eight with Sam Betty and Matt Kvesic also operating in the back row. Prop Oliver Tomazczyk is declared fit to take his place among the replacements while Rasmussen will captain the Warriors.
“I like Exeter and really admire what they have done,” said Hill.
“They play exceptionally well together, are very well drilled and have a very effective game plan. They have a great spirit and all play for each other. The crowd down in Exeter is also very good and it's a fantastic stadium and set-up for the future. They are difficult to beat.
“We will have to meet them up front and be physical, if we don't we will lose. I don't think there is much to choose between the teams and in our last two league games we have picked up six points.
“We are getting that intensity and consistency and a win on Saturday will put us into the middle of the table. Exeter is a tough place to go and we have only picked up two points on the road, but our progress over the last few weeks has been good and we will look to give them a real game.”
Form: Exeter Chiefs have won their last two matches against Prato in the European Challenge Cup and Sale in Aviva Premiership Rugby. The Chiefs have lost successive Premiership games at Sandy Park – the first time they have ever lost back to back home league games. Worcester Warriors have won their last two games against Crociati and Bath. The Warriors most recent away victory in the Premiership was at Gloucester on 21 April 2009. This fixture is the team's first ever clash in the Premiership, but they have been regular protagonists in league and cup rugby over the last 14 years. The Chiefs' only victory over the Warriors in their last seven encounters was 18-16 at Sixways in the semi-final of the RFU Challenge Cup on 1 March 2003. This is Worcester's first visit to Sandy Park.
Exeter: 15 Luke Arscott, 14 Gonzalo Camacho, 13 Nic Sestaret, 12 Jason Shoemark, 11 Matt Jess, 10 Ignacio Mieres, 9 Haydn Thomas, 8 Richard Baxter, 7 James Scaysbrook, 6 Tom Johnson, 5 James Hanks, 4 Tom Hayes (capt), 3 Craig Mitchell, 2 Neil Clark, 1 Brett Sturgess.
Replacements: 16 Simon Alcott, 17 Ben Moon, 18 Hoani Tui, 19 James Phillips, 20 Ben White, 21 Pat Phibbs, 22 Gareth Steenson, 23 Josh Tatupu.
Worcester: 15 Errie Claassens, 14 Marcel Garvey, 13 Alex Grove, 12 Dale Rasmussen (capt), 11 Miles Benjamin, 10 Joe Carlisle, 9 Shaun Perry, 8 Chris Jones, 7 Matt Kvesic, 6 Sam Betty, 5 Craig Gillies, 4 James Percival, 3 Tevita Taumoepeau, 2 Ed Shervington, 1 Bruce Douglas.
Replacements: 16 James Currie, 17 Aleki Lutui, 18 Oliver Tomaszczyk, 19 Ben Gulliver, 20 Jake Abbott, 21 Jonny Arr, 22 Andy Goode, 23 Chris Pennell.
Date: Saturday, December 3
Venue: Sandy Park
Referee: David Rose