Exeter Chiefs prepare to return to Welford Road, one of their most successful hunting grounds
Exeter Chiefs head coach Rob Baxter is looking forward to visiting one of his side’s most successful away venues since winning promotion to the Aviva Premiership when they take on Leicester Tigers at Welford Road on Saturday.
In their first term in the top flight, the Chiefs led 20-10 and 27-16, only to go down 37-27 to a full-strength Tigers outfit.
On the opening day of last season though, the Chiefs triumphed 30-28 against a Leicester line-up weakened by World Cup call-ups, and Exeter went on to complete the league double.
The Tigers will be licking their wounds after suffering a 22-9 home defeat last Saturday to reigning champions Harlequins in a repeat of last season’s Aviva Premiership final, but Baxter admitted it was a stadium his players relish performing in.
“We have had some success there in the past, but Leicester lost there last weekend, and it is always nice to go and play Leicester after they have lost!” he said.
“We do enjoy going to Leicester because it is a fantastic place to play rugby, with a fantastic crowd in a fantastic sporting arena, and playing against a team who have been one of the best sides in Europe for a long time.
“If you don’t want to play in a game that could bring the best out of you, you shouldn’t really be involved in this.
“We have got a short turnaround after the Saracens game last Sunday, and we will get only a couple of days training in, but we are ticking along pretty well.
“It is going to be a fantastic test of our attitude and our commitment to play, but that’s what the Premiership is all about.”
It is game two in a frightening run of fixtures for the Chiefs that sees them take on some of the top sides in Europe, with Harlequins, Leinster and Clermont Auvergne all to come next month, but Exeter could not have started the tough sequence in better fashion than beating Saracens 14-12 at Sandy Park last weekend.
“I said to the players ‘you might never get the opportunity in your rugby career again to play in a set of fixtures like this, so what are you going to do? Are you going to look at it and think what a fantastic challenge it is and get yourself right in the thick of it, and make sure you enjoy every part of it you can?’” said Baxter.
“We could have some great nights coming up. I have told the players to think of it that way and what we can achieve and what we can do, and don’t be weighed down by games three or four weeks away.
“We have got to get ready for Leicester, and I hope we can have a good bus on the way home from Welford Road because we have put in a good performance, whether it wins us the game or not.
“You just have to be proud of your performance on the day, celebrate that together, and then move on to the next game, and we are just going to do that week on week.”
One player who will be hoping to keep his place in the Exeter starting line-up is tight-head prop Carl Rimmer, who hugely impressed on his full Premiership debut against Sarries, and together with loose-head Brett Sturgess, played the full 80 minutes, which is almost unheard of for a prop in the Premiership these days.
“Carl is a good guy with a lot of very good characteristics and popular within the squad,” said Baxter.
“The two props both did 80 minutes on Sunday, and they did that because I thought they were the right guys to be on the pitch.
“It is a great achievement for those guys, and for Carl, all you can do is slap him on the back and say ‘well done mate’, because he was not up against an easy scrummaging side.
“That’s a tough old Premiership team he was facing and he did extremely well.”