Planet Rugby

Preview: Exeter v Newcastle

09th September 2011 11:41

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Tom Johnson exeter chiefs

Johnson: Exeter stalwart

Exeter flanker Tom Johnson will notch up his 100th cap for the club when the Chiefs face Newcastle on Saturday.

Signed from Coventry in 2007, the hard-running loose forward has become a crowd favourite at Sandy Park. Johnson joins current team-mates Richard Baxter, Neil Clark, James Hanks and Haydn Thomas in the 100 club.

Chiefs coach Rod Baxter has made two changes for Newcastle's visit. Lock James Hanks is ruled out through injury and is spot in the second row is taken by club captain Tom Hayes.

The second change is also injury-enforced, with full-back Luke Arscott the unlucky player who misses out. Phil Dollman slots in at fifteen in place of Arscott.

Coming off the back of a thrilling 30-28 victory over Leicester, Baxter is keen to see his troops retain their momentum.

"We're back at home and we're really looking forward to the game," said Baxter.

"As I kept saying to people when we got through the pre-season programme, it's all about playing games of rugby. You can have as good a pre-season as you like, but ultimately the players have to get out onto the pitch and back to winning league points.

"They need to maintain that same energy and positivity, which we have done, and it was a fantastic performance at Leicester which won us four valuable league points. Now, though, the key is to back up that performance with a second performance - that is what the Premiership is all about and if we slip off those high standards and don't put in a really motivated performance, that's when it becomes tough."

The Exeter mentor emphasised the importance of winning at home and admits he's wary of a wounded Newcastle side.

"In the Premiership every game is tough and you try to get what you can away from home, but in reality you build your season on your home record. Newcastle are coming down this weekend and they are a bit stung after their result. I'm sure they were anticipating doing better against Bath because they had a decent pre-season and they've been playing some decent rugby," he explained.

"Therefore to get limited to nine points and then get a bit of a roasting from the coach may well motivate them to put in a big physical performance at the weekend."

Like Baxter, Newcastle coach Alain Tait has made two changes to the team he fielded last weekend.

A hamstring injury keeps centre Jamie Helleur out of action with James Fitzpatrick his replacement in the midfield. In the pack, Andrew van der Heijden is ruled out by a rib injury. Tim Swinson comes off the bench to take his place.

Chiefs and Newcastle faced each other an incredible five times last year, so Tait is well aware of what is required to beat them.

"I keep saying this, but they are not a Championship side - they are a Premiership side with some very good players and upfront they have some old heads in there with some very physical boys," he explained.

"It will be a big challenge and I know Paul Moriarty is already chomping at the bit, telling the lads that they must front up this week.

"Teams are now coming to terms with how difficult Exeter really are, and keep thinking they are a Championship side, but they are very much not.

"Rob Baxter is a good coach and he has bought really well over the summer - they are a formidable outfit. They have only lost one or two players to the World Cup, so they are a fair old unit with good players amongst them.

"We know how difficult it is to go down there, so it is going to be a battle and a dogfight at their place. As for outplaying them, you can only do that once you have matched them upfront."

Form: Exeter Chiefs began their second Premiership campaign in the best possible way on Saturday, by beating Leicester at Welford Road for the first time ever. The Chiefs have won three successive Aviva Premiership matches and have never won four consecutive games in the competition. Newcastle Falcons have lost their last eight Premiership matches - their poorest run in the history of the tournament. The Falcons' only away victory in the Premiership since April 2010 was at Leeds Carnegie in February. The two teams met on an incredible five occasions last season, with the Chiefs taking three wins to two by the Falcons. Exeter won both encounters played at Sandy Park: 22-17 in the Premiership and 36-10 in the European Challenge Cup.

The teams:

Exeter Chiefs: 15 Phil Dollman, 14 Josh Tatupu, 13 Sireli Naqelevuki, 12 Jason Shoemark, 11 Matt Jess, 10 Ignacio Mieres, 9 Haydn Thomas, 8 Richard Baxter, 7 James Scaysbrook, 6 Tom Johnson, 5 Peter Short, 4 Tom Hayes (capt), 3 Hoani Tui, 2 Chris Whitehead, 1 Brett Sturgess.
Replacements: 16 Neil Clark, 17 Ben Moon, 18 Chris Budgen, 19 Aly Muldowney, 20 Ben White, 21 Kevin Barrett, 22 Gareth Steenson, 23 Bryan Rennie.

Newcastle Falcons: 15 Greg Goosen, 14 Luke Fielden, 13 Luke Eves, 12 James Fitzpatrick, 11 Alex Tait, 10 Jimmy Gopperth, 9 Chris Pilgrim, 8 Richard Mayhew, 7 Will Welch, 6 Mark Wilson, 5 Tim Swinson, 4 James Hudson, 3 Ashley Wells, 2 Rob Vickers,1 Grant Shiells
Replacements: 16 Joe Graham, 17 Dan Frazier, 18 James Hall, 19 Glen Townson, 20 Ally Hogg, 21 Jordi Pasqualin, 22 Rikki Sheriffe, 23 Tom Catterick.

Date: Saturday, September 10
Venue: Sandy Park
Kick-off: 15:00 BST (14.00 GMT)
Referee: Dean Richards

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