Fly-half backs Exeter Chiefs to grow stronger in second Heineken Cup outing against Clermont
Gareth Steenson believes Exeter Chiefs have shown they can mix it with the best in Europe as they prepare to host Clermont Auvergne.
The fly-half kicked two penalties as the Sandy Park outfit threatened to pull off a shock win against three-time Heineken Cup winners Leinster.
In the end Rob Baxter’s side had to settle for a losing bonus point from a 9-6 loss in Dublin last weekend on their debut in the elite club competition.
On Saturday (6pm) they host French giants Clermont Auvergne, who reached the last four of the competition last season, and Steenson thinks Exeter can believe in themselves.
“They [Leinster] had internationals throughout their side and British Lions and it was a great learning curve for us,” he said.
“For a lot of fellas it was our first experience at that level and it’s certainly a step up.
“We’ve proved we can play at that level and there’s no reason why we can’t show that same intensity every time we take the field.
“We’ve got to bring the attitude and belief we had last weekend and keep attacking games.”
Exeter go into Saturday evening’s clash with a record of three wins from three at Sandy Park this term, which includes seeing off Harlequins and Saracens.
Former Ulster player Steenson and his team-mates are proud of that run and are keen to keep it going against their French visitors.
The 28-year-old said: “Leinster hadn’t played many games together but Clermont are coming in off the back of a good result and playing some good rugby.
“It’s going to be another tough afternoon. I’m not sure if it’s going to be tougher but it’s certainly going to be right up there and if we’re not on top form it could be a long afternoon.
“We’ve got a proud record here at Sandy Park and we don’t want to lose any games here. We want to try and build a fortress. We’ve got a good record here so far and we’ll be looking to keep that record intact.”
Saturday’s defeat at the RDS Showground was only Steenson’s second start of the campaign and he is hoping to keep hold of the No. 10 jersey this weekend.
He also had to play second fiddle to Ignacio Mieres last term, starting just eight matches and being an unused replacement ten times.
But Steenson, who joined the Chiefs from the Cornish Pirates in 2008, thinks he improved as a player during his time out of the side last season.
“My game has definitely come on in the time I have been in this squad, especially since we’ve got into the Premiership,” he said. “I’m constantly learning. Even last season when I wasn’t getting as much game time as I wanted, I was watching the game more, I was analysing the game more and seeing where space was a bit more.
“From that point of view in the long run it might work out better for me but obviously you want to play as many games as possible.”
Steenson will hope to put all that he has learned into action against Clermont this weekend and he believes Exeter have a chance of turning them over.
And he says the supporters could have a large part to play, with a bumper crowd expected for the club’s first home game in the Heineken Cup.
“The support we had in Dublin was incredible, the amount of people who went over and the number of pink jerseys you saw in the crowd was fantastic,” he said.
“Hopefully the supporters will come out and get behind us again and be that 16th man we really need here.
“It should be a good afternoon of Heineken Cup rugby. No doubt it’s going to be another big occasion this Saturday and if we can put in another good performance we’ll be in with a chance.”