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Preview: Exeter Chiefs v Sale Sharks

18th April 2014 13:06

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Dean Mumm Exeter Chiefs 2013

Dean Mumm: Back at lock for Exeter

Exeter boss Rob Baxter has made just one change to his starting XV for Saturday's clash with Sale at Sandy Park.

The sole change to the starting XV sees skipper Dean Mumm revert back into the second-row as Don Armand (ankle) is ruled out. Mumm's switch means a recall to the ranks for Ben White on the open-side flank.

On the bench, there is also just one change as experienced prop Hoani Tui offers back-up at tight-head in place of Welsh international Craig Mitchell.

Whilst thoughts of a potential end-of-season European Play-Off may have occupied the thoughts of many Exeter Chiefs supporters in the past week, head coach Rob Baxter insists he and his team are focused solely on Sale's visit.

With the new-look format finally sorted for next season and beyond, the Chiefs are well aware that the battle to get amongst Europe's elite is going to go to the wire over these final three rounds.

After successive losses to both Leicester Tigers and Gloucester, Baxter's side positioned themselves back into the crucial seventh spot with last weekend's 38-33 victory over lowly Worcester Warriors.

The task now, however, is for Devon's finest to remain in that position (or better) during these dying embers of the season.

Sale, who stand 11 points and one place better off than the Chiefs currently, pose the first of three battles, before Harlequins (home) and Newcastle Falcons (away) wrap up the domestic campaign.

Baxter is well aware of the potential prize on offer to his side and says it's vital that the Chiefs use last week's victory as the springboard for a big final push for points.

"Obviously we're in seventh place at the moment and holding onto that last potential qualifying spot," he said.

"We know now there is going to be a play-off in either the one or two weeks following the end of the season for seventh place, so I suppose it's in our hands really."

"Our approach this week is going to be very much like last week, where we are going to maximise the opportunity to play 80 minutes in the Premiership.

"That kind of suits us to be single-minded about a single game. It stood us in good stead against Worcester and I'm sure it will stand us in good stead for this weekend."

Having already overcome Sale on their own turf this season, the Chiefs will be hoping to wrap up a successful league double against the Sharks, who results-wise have picked up significantly on previous years.

"Sale are having a good season," warned Baxter.

"They're a good side and they have got things to prove to cement themselves in the top six.

"As I said, it's not really about looking at what will happen in three games time, it's more about what's going to happen come 5.30pm this Saturday."

"The truth is seventh place is in our hands. We are there at the moment so we just have to get more points than the people around us.

"Of course that's a challenge for us, we have some tough games to play against Sale and Quins here and then Newcastle away.

"Right now both Sale and Quins are fighting for European qualification and the top four and Newcastle could well be fighting against relegation."

"That said, we went to Worcester and put in a very good performance against a side who are improving and who are fighting like dogs to get themselves out of danger.

"I know we can deal with that pressure and we just have to enjoy what we do. The weather is nice, the pitches are firming up and we like to play attacking rugby.

"For us it's about being brave enough to ram that home."

Meanwhile, Sale have made a couple of changes to their starting XV.

Amongst the backs, Charlie Ingall comes in for Mark Cueto.

And up front, Viliami Fahiki starts at number eight with James Gaskell moving from the back of the scrum to start on the blindside flank.

Fellow back-row David Seymour takes over the captaincy from Luke Braid who is not playing this weekend.

Form: Exeter Chiefs beat Worcester 38-33 at Sixways in Round 19 but have not won successive Aviva Premiership Rugby matches since November. The Chiefs only victory in their last four encounters at Sandy Park was 18-0 over London Irish in the Premiership on March 1. A Sale Sharks victory will guarantee them a place in the European Rugby Champions Cup for next season. The Sharks have lost their last two matches at home to Northampton in the European Challenge Cup and home to Harlequins in the Premiership, but have not lost three in a row since November 2013. The Sharks have won their last four away games in the Premiership and they have never won five in succession on the road in the tournament's' history. Sale's solo victory over Exeter in their seven previous encounters came at AJ Bell Stadium on February 8 2013. The Sharks have been defeated on all three previous visits to Sandy Park.

The teams:

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

Sale: 15 Tom Arscott, 14 Tom Brady, 13 Jonny Leota, 12 Sammy Tuitupou, 11 Charlie Ingall, 10 Danny Cipriani, 9 Dwayne Peel, 8 Viliami Fahiki, 7 David Seymour (c), 6 James Gaskell, 5 Michael Paterson, 4 Jonathan Mills, 3 Vadim Cobilas, 2 Marc Jones, 1 Eifion Lewis-Roberts.
Replacements: 16 Tommy Taylor, 17 Ross Harrison, 18 Henry Thomas, 19 Andrei Ostikov, 20 Mark Easter, 21 Will Cliff, 22 Joe Ford, 23 Mark Jennings.

Date: Saturday April 19
Venue: Sandy Park
Kick-off: 15:00 (local, 14:00 GMT)
Referee: Greg Garner
Assistant referees: Gareth Copsey and Paul Burton
TMO: Geoff Warren.

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