Planet Rugby

Preview: Exeter Chiefs v Cardiff Blues

11th October 2013 12:53

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Fetu u Vainikolo Exeter chiefs photocall

First start for Chiefs: Fetu'u Vainikolo

Tongan international Fetu'u Vainikolo will make his first start for Exeter in Sunday's Heineken Cup clash against Cardiff Blues at Sandy Park.

Chiefs will also head into the contest buoyed by an impressive victory at Gloucester in their last outing.

Head coach Rob Baxter says that display was the "best yet" this season from his team and has asked them to replicate that showing against the visiting Welshmen.

"Finishing that first block of Premiership games with a win like that was huge for us," Baxter told the Exeter Chiefs website.

"Not only was it very satisfying results-wise, but it has given us the foundation to go out and enjoy attacking the Heineken Cup. We have talked about going after this competition as hard as we can, so to have Cardiff come down here with us on decent form is going to be hugely exciting."

Team news for the Chiefs sees Baxter forced to tweak his backline due to injuries sustained in the past week. Former Blues' winger Tom James rolled an ankle in training, so he misses out and Vainikolo comes in for his first competitive start.

The experienced Jason Shoemark returns at centre in place of Sam Hill, who picked up a knock in the latter stages of the game at Kingsholm. The promotion of Tongan international Vainikolo means his spot on the bench is filled by Fijian powerhouse Sireli Naqelevuki.

Meanwhile, centre Dafydd Hewitt is recalled to the starting line-up as Cardiff Blues.

Hewitt, who last week made his 100th appearance for the region, is named at inside centre as Cory Allen switches to outside centre for the Pool 2 opener in Devon.

Director of Rugby Phil Davies makes no further changes to the side that defeated Edinburgh last time out, with hooker Matthew Rees again captaining from the front row and making his 50th appearance in the Heineken Cup.

Fellow hooker Marc Breeze is named among the replacements and there is also a call-up for Richard Smith who could make his first appearance of the season from the bench.

Blues have won three of their last four Heineken Cup encounters with clubs across the Anglo-Welsh border.

However, Davies is aware of the size of the challenge facing his Blues against an Exeter side that warmed up for Europe with a convincing win over Gloucester last weekend.

"We know the physical battle we will face and we have got to be ready to match that," he said.

"We're trying to get intensity into our game. I know what the English league is like and how pragmatic it can be. Exeter have been that, but they have also tried to open their game up and play more expansively and they are an exciting side.

"It's eight versus eight up front and a real battle. But there are battles all over the pitch in terms of physicality, speed and power. The word intensity in the player's minds has got to be the forefront this weekend.

"This competition is all about momentum. All the Welsh regions have got match winners and players with proven ability. If we get momentum who know what can happen this season?"

Blues will be missing Owen Williams, who is ruled out after suffering a hamstring injury last week against Edinburgh, but Davies is confident a new-look midfield partnership of Dafydd Hewitt and Cory Allen can shine.

"We are lucky that Cory has had some really good game experience over the last few weeks and Dafydd has been there, seen it and done it all before. We have two guys there that will do a very good job for us."

The teams:

Exeter Chiefs: 15 Phil Dollman, 14 Matt Jess, 13 Ian Whitten, 12 Jason Shoemark, 11 Fetu'u Vainikolo, 10 Gareth Steenson, 9 Dave Lewis, 8 Dave Ewers, 7 Ben White, 6 Tom Johnson, 5 Damian Welch, 4 Dean Mumm (capt), 3 Hoani Tui, 2 Chris Whitehead, 1 Brett Sturgess.
Replacements: 16 Jack Yeandle, 17 Ben Moon, 18 Carl Rimmer, 19 Don Armand, 20 Kai Horstmann, 21 Haydn Thomas, 22 Henry Slade, 23 Sireli Naqelevuki.

Cardiff Blues: 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 Alex Cuthbert, 13 Cory Allen, 12 Dafydd Hewitt, 11 Harry Robinson, 10 Rhys Patchell, 9 Lloyd Williams, 8 Andries Pretorius, 7 Sam Warburton, 6 Josh Navidi, 5 Filo Paulo, 4 Bradley Davies, 3 Tau Filise, 2 Matthew Rees (capt), 1 Gethin Jenkins.
Replacements: 16 Marc Breeze, 17 Sam Hobbs, 18 Scott Andrews, 19 Lou Reed, 20 Robin Copeland, 21 Lewis Jones, 22 Gareth Davies, 23 Richard Smith.

Date: Sunday, October 13
Kick-off: 12:45 BST
Venue: Sandy Park
Referee: Jérôme Garcès (France)
Assistant referees: Patrick Pechambert (France) Sébastien Clouté (France)
Television match official: Philippe Bonhoure (France)
Timekeeper: Eric Bullion (England)

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