Exeter head coach Rob Baxter says he is looking forward to his side’s pre-season programme after the Chiefs today confirmed their three warm-up fixtures ahead of the new Aviva Premiership season.
The Devon club will kick-off their programme with a trip to Irish Magners League outfit Connacht on Saturday, August 13 (3pm) before travelling to Championship side Cornish Pirates on Saturday August 20 (5pm). Exeter’s final test will then take place at Sandy Park on Saturday, August 27 (3pm) when they play host to more opposition from the Magners League in the form of Llanelli Scarlets.
It is – according to Baxter – not only an entertaining set of fixtures, but also a set which is sure to fully test his Exeter squad, which will include a number of new faces for the 2011/12 campaign.
“I think we have got a good set of pre-season games,” said Baxter, who guided the Chiefs to eighth place in their maiden season in English rugby’s top flight last term. “We are starting relatively early in August with what will be a very tough game over in Ireland, but as last year showed us we really benefitted from the games we played against Magners League opposition.
“Again this year we’ve got two games against Magners League sides, both of whom are also competing in the Heineken Cup, plus we’ve got what I know will be a good challenge against the Pirates at their place.
“I think going over to Ireland that early will be good for us – not only will it allow us to spend a bit of time together as a group – but at the same time it will act as good preparation for what we know will be some tough away games again this year both in the Premiership and in Europe.”
Although Connacht will provide a fresh challenge for the Chiefs, Exeter’s other two opponents are well known to Baxter and many of his players. Last season the Chiefs defeated the Pirates 22-14 at Sandy Park, whilst the Scarlets won at the impressive Parc Y Scarlets 24-20 a week later.
“Obviously we’ve played the Pirates quite regularly over the last few years and we know plenty about them,” added Baxter. “Anyone who has watched them this past season will know they’ve been one of the form sides in the Championship. They’re well coached, they’ve got some very good players, so again they will offer us a decent test.
“Likewise with the Scarlets, we played them last year in pre-season and had a really competitive fixture against them up at their place. I think the games we had with both the Scarlets and also Cardiff Blues gave us a real insight into things like the contact area, decision-making and speed of the game at that level. It meant we were able to go away and work on a few areas before that first Premiership game against Gloucester – and in the end it served a real purpose in terms of getting us ready for the new season.”
Meanwhile, Baxter hopes to conclude all his summer transfer dealings by the end of this week. The Exeter coach has made no secret of his desire to add a couple of new additions to the Sandy Park ranks with a utility back and a lock top of his priority list.
“Within the next week we will hopefully be able to announce our last couple of signings,” he said. “It’s no secret that Nemani Nadolo has now gone home and there is an opportunity to bring in a back-three player.
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“We think we have highlighted a good guy to come in to do a good job. He’s the right age and demographic for us – he’s a younger guy who could come in for a couple of years. We think we have got that guy lined up.
“We’re still considering another second row. We’re looking to strengthen the front five this year and we think we have done that with the front row with our signings there and Aly Muldowney, but if the right guy is available we’re still in a position to add some more strength in that area.”