Chance for fringe players to force their way into first XV
ROB Baxter expects at least a couple of his fringe Exeter Chiefs players to force their way into the first team during the two LV= Cup matches in the next fortnight.
The Sandy Park outfit switch from Aviva Premiership action to play in the Anglo-Welsh competition, with a trip to play London Welsh on Sunday.
Next weekend they host Swansea-based side the Ospreys and Baxter will give a host of players a chance to impress.
It is not just a case of wanting to rest the players who have played the majority of the games so far this season – nine have featured in all 10 outings – but also about seeing who else deserves a call-up.
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"We've got a lot of guys who've played a lot of game minutes and a lot of guys who haven't played that many game minutes," he said. "Evening that up over the next couple of weeks is going to be important.
"It's also important to give some guys an opportunity. I look at the LV= games the same as the A League games. When you make a lot of changes you can create a little bit of uncertainty with how you play or cause some disruption.
"My opinion is that that's what makes it a fantastic challenge and a fantastic opportunity for the players on the pitch.
"I understand it's not going to be the most fluid performance because of that so that means a stand-out performance really does put you up there because you won't have had as good a preparation as if you'd been in with the Premiership team for three or four weeks.
"If you can perform with a bit of extra pressure when things are more awkward that says you're a very good player who is bang on form.
"Over the last few years there's tended to be one or two players who've come through these games and stayed in the Premiership team for the rest of the season because they've put in an inspired performance and shown us they deserve to be in the Premiership team.
"I see these games as a fantastic opportunity for a large group of players. Some of them will revel in it and that'll be great for them and will move them up the pecking order. Other guys won't, they'll have to work a bit harder and do a bit more to push on."
Among the players likely to be handed a chance by Baxter and his coaching staff – there could be an entirely different starting line-up to the one that beat Worcester 33-9 last time out – are a host of youngsters.
Flanker Dave Ewers has been knocking on the first team door for some time and is one of only a few fit back-rowers so will be one of the first names on the teamsheet.
Pacy backs Jack Nowell and Jack Arnott could also be handed starting berths and Baxter is keen to see how much they have learned on dual-registration with Championship clubs Plymouth Albion and Cornish Pirates.
"We've got a very good group of young players," said Baxter. "Guys like Luke Cowan-Dickie, Jack Yeandle, Jack Nowell, Jack Arnott, Henry Slade, Dave Ewers, Sam Hill and Will Carrick-Smith will get an opportunity to play in this next stage of rugby for us. I'm really excited about seeing how they go and how they face the challenge.
"It's going to be tough for them and being tough and standing up and fighting and showing your worth is what it's all about when it comes to breaking into a Premiership side."
As well as the youngsters, the likes of Hoani Tui will be hoping to make his return from a hamstring strain, while hooker Neil Clark will be keen for more time on the pitch as he works his way back from a shoulder operation.
Tui's fellow props Ben Moon and Chris Budgen have been on the bench for the majority of games this season so will be itching for a start as well.
Head coach Baxter is hoping London Welsh will field a strong side this weekend and give his players a tough challenge to see what they're made of. He said: "We've never had an easy game against London Welsh, whether it's in the Championship, Premiership or A League.
"We're expecting it to be tough but we need it to be tough because if it is we'll get something out of it. If it's tough we can see how the young guys and the guys who have been on the fringes perform.
"These next couple of weeks are important to us in many ways. The teams that come out of the LV= Cup period right tend to be the teams that kick-on a little bit."