Chiefs coach Baxter relishing the chance to play Tigers at home
It may not seem like the obvious response to an impending visit from the reigning league champions, but Exeter Chiefs head coach Rob Baxter sees the opportunity to play Leicester as just reward for all their hard work.
Chiefs are now in their fourth season in the top flight and would generally be regarded an established Premiership side by anyone who has watched or played against them, but Baxter still believes they can take nothing for granted and should approach each game with the same enthusiasm and rigour as their very first at this level.
While they will accord them the respect they deserve at Sandy Park tomorrow, Baxter stressed the one thing his players do not have to be is in any way afraid of the Tigers.
“You always look forward to Leicester coming – it’s a big fixture for us and is the reason why we got into the Premiership,” said Baxter. “I don’t tire of telling people that. These are the kind of fixtures we said we wanted to be part of, we worked very hard to make that a reality, and now we have to make sure we relish every second of it.
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“We’ve got as good a chance as any of winning the game, appreciating that we have to play well for the full 80 minutes. We’ve had some very good fixtures against Leicester, a very tight game last year and the year before we forced a win.
“We’re looking to perform well. We do have to be very competitive until the final whistle in as many areas as we can be for as long as we can be. As long as we put in a good performance I’ll be happy. The only thing that will disappoint me is if we don’t really go for it, and don’t go out there to play to win.”
Baxter readily admitted his players have yet to fire on all cylinders for an entire match this season, although they have still been good enough to win two out of three Premiership fixtures so far – at home to Wasps and away to London Irish last week.
Despite identifying that as a definite positive, from a points perspective, the head coach stressed the importance of finding a consistent high level against Leicester, or accept the consequences.
“No doubt we’ll have to play better this week than we have in the past couple of weeks, but that’s nothing unusual when you come up to play Leicester,” said Baxter. “They are the champions, you have to play well to beat them.
“I think the players are aware of the need to perform consistently. There’s been an element of disruption through the pre-season with the odd injury, people dropping in and out, and we’ve changed the odd thing.
“I think we’ve coped with things really well; eight points from three games is a really good foundation to push on from, so I’m really comfortable with where we are.
“What we have to do now is build on that and collect some points. I don’t really care how we get them, but as long as we do collect them in this first phase of the season in the run-up to the Heineken Cup, and just be happy with our level of performance.
“I’m never critical of the players when we get out there and go for it and play hard, but I think we haven’t quite put long enough periods of momentum play together yet for us to be really happy with how we’re playing. But in some ways, that’s quite a good thing and a nice play to be in that we can feel there’s more coming all the time.
“The truth is the best teams aren’t at their best now, this is the time they bed in and get better. And that’s what we need to make sure we do.”
With tomorrow’s game expected to be a sell-out or something very close, Baxter admitted that extra element brought by Chiefs’ dedicated army of followers might well be crucial down the stretch if the scores are close.
He said: “You could say it’s our first really big fixture of the season, the kind of game the fans were desperate for us to get into the Premiership for. We’ve got to play in a way that makes them want to get on their feet and scream and shout, and get the Tomahawk Chop going. But that’s for us to create that atmosphere.”