Planet Rugby

Preview: Leicester v Exeter

21st March 2014 11:33

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Jack Nowell 2

Back in the tribe: Jack Nowell

Triumphant in the LV= Cup, Exeter Chiefs assistant coach Ali Hepher insists his side will have to replicate their efforts against Leicester Tigers.

With just six league fixtures remaining for the Devon club, the need to get themselves back amongst the division's top six clubs has taken on extra relevance in the light of their latest success story.

Buoyed by their 15-8 win over Northampton Saints in the Anglo-Welsh showpiece last Sunday, the Chiefs now travel to Leicester Tigers this weekend determined to build on the euphoria that surrounded that success.

Currently positioned eighth in the Premiership standings, the Chiefs are seven points adrift of Sale Sharks, who occupy the final berth in the all-important top six.

Hepher knows that the time has come for the Chiefs to crank up the gears and drive themselves back into contention following a recent sticky period in the top flight.

"We always knew the fixture schedule was going to be tough, but we've had a good few weeks playing at an intensive level of rugby and it has prepared us really well for the weekend," said Hepher.

"Obviously [going to Leicester] is going to be a tough ask, but we're in good form; we're winning and the ground are firming up, so hopefully we can attack the game as we want to."

Last weekend's victory over a star-studded Saints side not only guaranteed a first piece of major silverware for Exeter, but it extended their latest winning streak to three games having previously netted wins against London Irish (league) and Bath (LV= Cup).

"Last week's win was not only great for the club, but it's great for the whole area and especially great for the players. They've put in a lot of effort this season and they've had some tough times, but they they've battled through it."

"As a team we always knew that we would, despite all those close losses, but in some ways they were were important learning tools for us. We learnt a lot from that period and coming out of it we've produced two top quality Cup performances - and now we need to take that into the league because the reality is every week is going to be a Cup Final for us."

"What we have to do following on from last Sunday is kick on and get some points in the league and get ourselves moving back up the table."

Although victorious last time out, head coach Rob Baxter has been forced to tinker with his winning formula. Up front try-scoring hooker Chris Whitehead misses out on facing his former club due to a neck injury, so Jack Yeandle returns to the Exeter front-row alongside props Hoani Tui and Ben Moon.

Behind, the Chiefs are also bolstered by the return of Irishman Ian Whitten in the centre and England winger Jack Nowell, who returns for the first time having played in all five Six Nations games for Stuart Lancaster's side. The men who miss out are Jason Shoemark and Matt Jess, the latter of whom drops down to the bench.

Joining Jess waiting in the wings will be Exeter's other England ace, flanker Tom Johnson, who like Nowell featured in the recent wins over Wales and Italy.

Meanwhile, Manu Tuilagi makes his first home appearance since the opening month of the season.

The 22-year-old Tuilagi returned from a five-month absence due to a chest muscle injury to play in the win at Newcastle Falcons in the last round and then gained his 22nd England cap in the win over Italy last weekend.

Tuilagi teams up with Anthony Allen at centre, while Dan Bowden has been ruled out after appendix surgery.

Top try-scorer Vereniki Goneva and Adam Thompstone are on the wings and Mathew Tait is at full-back as Tigers begin the six-game run-in to the end of the season.

Scrum-half Ben Youngs makes the 100th starting appearance of his Tigers career and, with dad Nick will become the second father-and-son duo to reach this mark in the club's history, following Ian and Matt Smith.

Ed Slater leads the team as captain and Julian Salvi returns to the back row.

Form: Rob Baxter's side broke two unwelcome records in two weeks - beating Bath Rugby for the first time in the professional era before ending their 143-year wait for top honours with LV= Cup glory. But attention must turn to the Aviva Premiership, where Exeter are in danger of missing out on the top six for the first time in three years. The Chiefs are nine-points adrift of sixth-place Sale Sharks and a tricky trip to take on Leicester Tigers awaits this weekend. Their Aviva Premiership record on the road is not enviable, with Exeter failing to pick up an away win in the competition since they visited Sale on November 1. Leicester have won their last four matches and are unbeaten in their last six Aviva Premiership games - and Richard Cockerill's side have lost just once in their last 12 home league games. They have also won their last three encounters with Exeter, while the Chiefs have only beaten Leicester at Welford Road on one occasion - in September 2011.

The teams:

For Leicester: 15 Mathew Tait, 14 Vereniki Goneva, 13 Manu Tuilagi, 12 Anthony Allen, 11 Adam Thompstone, 10 Owen Williams, 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Jordan Crane, 7 Julian Salvi, 6 Jamie Gibson, 5 Ed Slater (c), 4 Louis Deacon, 3 Logovi'i Mulipola, 2 Tom Youngs, 1 Marcos Ayerza
Replacements: 16 Rob Hawkins, 17 Boris Stankovich, 18 Fraser Balmain, 19 Graham Kitchener, 20 Thomas Waldrom, 21 David Mele, 22 Toby Flood, 23 Scott Hamilton

For Exeter: 15 Luke Arscott, 14 Jack Nowell, 13 Ian Whitten, 12 Phil Dollman, 11 Fetu'u Vainikolo, 10 Henry Slade, 9 Dave Lewis, 8 Kai Horstmann, 7 Ben White, 6 Dave Ewers, 5 Damian Welch, 4 Dean Mumm (c), 3 Hoani Tui, 2 Jack Yeandle, 1 Ben Moon
Replacements: 16 Luke Cowan-Dickie, 17 Carl Rimmer, 18 Alex Brown, 19 Don Armand, 20 Tom Johnson, 21 Haydn Thomas, 22 Gareth Steenson, 23 Matt Jess

Date: Sunday, March 23
Venue: Welford Road
Kickoff: 14:00 GMT
Referee: Dean Richards
Assistant Referees: Stuart Terheege, Simon Mcconnell
TMO: Rowan Kitt

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Sunday , November 16
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Italy 24 - 13 SamoaItaly vs Samoa Report
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PosTeamPPts
1Northampton726
2Exeter724
3Bath724
4Saracens724
5Wasps720