Preview: Bath v Exeter Chiefs

Date published: October 16 2015

Bath kick off their Premiership campaign with a West Country battle against Exeter at the Rec with George Ford straight back into the team.

Fresh from England duty, Ford and Anthony Watson are start in an all-English backline, while Samoa's Alafoti Faosiliva also starts having played for Samoa against Scotland last week.

Rob Webber, David Wilson and Sam Burgess are all named on the bench, the latter notably covering the back row rather than the three-quarters and Mike Ford makes his plans for the former league star clear.

Bath and Exeter were two of the success stories of last season, with Bath falling at the final hurdle against Saracens, while Exeter were just a point away from a first appearance in the play-offs.

Both squads have been bolstered over the off-season but most of the new faces are on the bench, including Bath scrum-half Niko Matawalu and Chiefs flanker Julian Salvi.

Rob Baxter has resisted the temptation to bring his World Cup players straight back into the starting lineup, with Henry Slade on the bench, the only one even including in the matchday squad.

And after what was the most successful season in the club's history, Baxter knows the pressure is on for a repeat performance.

"When you look at the points you need to be in the top six and the top four, there isn’t a lot of difference. It is only one or two wins," said Baxter. 

"We have just had our best year in the Premiership, we got to the quarter-final of a European competition and it is going to take some doing to live up to that. But that’s what you want. You want big challenges.

"We have spoken to the players about it, we don’t hide from it, we treat them like men and they know there is a big challenge in front of them.

"For us to get a similar points score to what we got last year in the Premiership, we are going to have to start collecting points straight away and you have to do that in every game in some manner."

Form: Mike Ford's side suffered not one, but two pre-season defeats to Exeter Chiefs – their opponents at the Rec on Saturday – most recently a 43-16 reversal last weekend. However, Bath have lost just once on the Aviva Premiership Rugby's opening weekend since 2006 – a 24-5 loss to Gloucester Rugby in 2009 – and won their last six regular-season games. They have also lost just one league game at the Rec since March 2014. Exeter have been defeated just once in Round 1 since being promoted into Aviva Premiership Rugby for the first time in 2010 and they finished off last season with a pair of victories, at Saracens and at home to Sale Sharks. Rob Baxter's side also beat Bath for the first time on their tenth meeting in the competition at Sandy Park in February, whilst their only competitive victory at the Recreation Ground in any tournament was 22-19 in the semi-final of the LV= Cup in March 2014.

The teams:

Bath: 15 Tom Homer, 14 Semesa Rokoduguni, 13 Matt Banahan, 12 Kyle Eastmond, 11 Anthony Watson, 10 George Ford, 9 Chris Cook, 8 Leroy Houston, 7 Alafoti Faosiliva, 6 Matt Garvey, 5 Dave Attwood, 4 Stuart Hooper (c), 3 Henry Thomas, 2 Ross Batty, 1 Nick Auterac 
Replacements: 16 Rob Webber, 17 Max Lahiff, 18 David Wilson, 19 Sam Burgess, 20 Guy Mercer, 21 Niko Matawalu, 22 Max Clark, 23 Jeff Williams

Exeter: 15 Phil Dollman, 14 Matt Jess, 13 Ian Whitten, 12 Sam Hill, 11 James Short, 10 Gareth Steenson (c), 9 Will Chudley, 8 Thomas Waldrom, 7 Don Armand, 6 Dave Ewers, 5 Damian Welch, 4 Mitch Lees, 3 Alex Brown, 2 Luke Cowan-Dickie, 1 Ben Moon
Replacements: 16 Jack Yeandle, 17 Alec Hepburn, 18 Moray Low, 19 Ollie Atkins, 20 Julian Salvi, 21 Dave Lewis, 22 Henry Slade, 23 Olly Woodburn

Date: Saturday, October 17
Venue: The Recreation Ground
Kick-off: 14:00 local (13:00 GMT)
Referee: Tim Wigglesworth
Assistant Referees: Ross Campbell, Gareth Copsey
TMO: Rowan Kitt