Planet Rugby

Preview: Bath v Exeter

08th April 2011 12:23


Newcastle v Exeter Sireli Naqelevuki

Naqelevuki: Passed a fitness test.

Exeter Chiefs head coach Rob Baxter is confident his side can rediscover their form in Saturday's derby encounter with Bath.

Baxter was less than impressed by the way his side went down 27-22 to the Aviva Premiership's basement club and promised to use this week as the ideal opportunity to address some of the issues which have crept into his team in the past fortnight.

"If there's one thing we did wrong as a group, it was that we got a bit carried away with what a win would have given us," Baxter said of last week.

"All week people were saying: 'If Exeter win they're mathematically safe, the season then has been a success'.

"For the first time we got too forward-thinking in what the result would bring, rather than concentrating on the bits and pieces that would bring the result.

"One of our biggest strengths all season has been that all we have talked about is going to clubs to play well, and if we do that we're happy. That's led to us winning some games and getting losing bonus points from others, but we were focused on working on our performance. We've refocused on that this week.

"We know Bath is a big local derby and we're going to go up there and look to perform as best we can. If that gives us a piece of the game, fantastic. If not, so long as we've given it a good go, we'll be happy."

Although the Chiefs head into this Westcountry tussle on the back of defeats against London Irish and Leeds Carnegie, Bath themselves are also on a losing streak of their own having slipped to successive defeats against Gloucester, Leicester Tigers and, more recently, Saracens.

That sequence of results has meant Bath are now hanging on by their fingernails to the hopes of reaching the end-of-season play-offs. For that to happen they are well aware they will have to do the double over the Chiefs and Baxter hopes the pressure that brings will work in Exeter's favour.

"We've got to play on that very much - we've got to say this is a big game for Bath," he said. "If that puts them under pressure and 30 minutes in we're playing well, let's see how they deal with the pressure.

"We're not going there with the pressure that we have to win, we want to put pressure on ourselves to perform well and do the things we do well."

The Chiefs have made changes to their line-up which lost at Headingley a week ago. In the back division, Matt Jess takes over on the wing from Fijian powerhouse Nemani Nadolo, whilst the club's other Fijian star Sireli Naqelevuki has passed fit for duty and will replace Bryan Rennie in the Exeter midfield alongside Jason Shoemark.

Up front, prop Hoani Tui comes in for his 11th start of the season as Chris Budgen is unavailable due to commitments with the British Army and top try-scorer Tom Johnson is recalled at flanker in place of James Phillips. Tui's elevation from the bench means Argentine forward Ignacio Elosu is added to the match-day 23 - as is scrum-half Garrick Cowley who replaces former Bath player Haydn Thomas.

bath Director of Rugby, Sir Ian McGeechan, knows that performing more accurately in certain areas holds the key to Bath getting back to winning ways.

"The last couple of games we have put our hands up and admitted we have been far too careless with possession. You can have all the tactics and plans in the world, but if you are not able to keep hold of the ball, then they are useless. We showed we can penetrate very well, as we did against Leicester, we just need to make sure we don't lose the ball in the contact and keep it safe.

"Exeter are a well-coached side, know what they are doing and are very efficient at it. If we want to really threaten them, we need to be just as efficient. We showed down in Exeter our ability to counter their physicality at the contact areas, and that is something we must do. Maintaining possession is key, because if you don't hold on to the ball, you don't penetrate, and if you are not good at breakdowns you won't keep possession.

"We have been working hard on these areas though, and are keen to right the wrongs of the last few weeks, and get ourselves back on course for reaching the play-offs."

The teams:

Bath: 15 Sam Vesty, 14 Matt Banahan, 13 Matt Carraro, 12 Shontayne Hape, 11 Nick Abendanon, 10 Butch James, 9 Michael Claassens, 8 Luke Watson, 7 Guy Mercer, 6 Stuart Hooper, 5 Danny Grewcock, 4 Peter Short, 3 David Wilson, 2 Lee Mears, 1 David Flatman.
Replacements: 16 Pieter Dixon, 17 Nathan Catt, 18 Duncan Bell, 19 Ignacio Fernandez Lobbe, 20 Josh Ovens, 21 Mark McMillan, 22 Nick Scott, 23 Jacques Boussuge.

Exeter: 15 Luke Arscott, 14 Matt Jess, 13 Jason Shoemark, 12 Sireli Naqelevuki, 11 Nic Sestaret, 10 Gareth Steenson, 9 Junior Poluleuligaga, 8 Richard Baxter, 7 James Scaysbrook, 6 Tom Johnson, 5 Chad Slade, 4 Tom Hayes, 3 Hoani Tui, 2 Neil Clark, 1 Brett Sturgess.
Replacements: 16 Chris Whitehead, 17 Ben Moon, 18 Ignacio Elosu, 19 Dave Gannon, 20 James Phillip, 21 Garrick Cowley, 22 Phil Dollman, 23 Ignacio Mieres.

Date: Saturday, April 9
Venue:The Recreation Ground
Kick-off: 14:30 BST (13:30 GMT)
Referee: Martin Fox
Assistant referees: Andrew Pearce, Roger Baileff

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