Saracens lock Mouritz Botha is braced for an intimidating trip to Sandy Park this weekend to take on Exeter Chiefs.
The 2011 champions are top of the table by two points after six wins from their first seven matches so far this season.
Exeter lie in fourth after a good start themselves, drawing praise from the former England second row - who compared the atmosphere at Sandy Park to the home fortresses of Leicester Tigers and Northampton Saints.
"Their position in the table (fourth) definitely doesn't tell any lies. They are there because they deserve to be there," Botha told the Exeter Express and Echo.
"Their ground has turned into a bit of a fortress and we know about that because we lost at Sandy Park last season.
"It's now a bit like Northampton and Leicester with Franklin's Gardens and Welford Road - you go down there and expect them to be very tough to beat at home.
"It's a hostile environment with a passionate set of fans and they play a great brand of rugby, so it's going to be a massive challenge."
Looking at the bigger picture, Botha remarked that he was impressed with how the Chiefs have developed since entering the league in 2010 - going on to play two seasons of Heineken Cup rugby despite signing few recognised international stars.
"Their rise is incredible, a few clubs have come up and had one good season and dropped off again but they get stronger all the time," added Botha.
"They have great coaches and good support for them in place, but we're a team that looks forward to those types of challenges.
"We're all professionals and it's our responsibility to jump straight back in and keep the momentum going."