Exeter Chiefs have been challenged by head coach Rob Baxter to use last week’s Aviva Premiership victory over Harlequins as the ideal springboard for Friday’s league trip to Newcastle Falcons (8pm). With the two sides having met four times already this season – the head-to-head reads two wins apiece – it’s this latest encounter at Kingston Park which is sure to prove the most important of all the meetings.
Last Saturday Baxter watched on with great satisfaction as his side chalked up their sixth league win of the season with a 20-6 home win over Harlequins, who themselves had arrived in Devon sporting a nine-game unbeaten run.
Now, though, the Exeter boss wants his troops to replicate their efforts in the North East. He said: “The nice thing is it’s another new challenge for us and it’s going to be interesting to see how we front up to it. Going to Newcastle at eight o’clock on a Friday night is a tough place to go and play. Obviously we will have to contend with the travelling, hanging around all day and making sure we turn up in the right mental state, but that is what makes it a nice challenge for us
“This week we’re playing against a team which has different aspirations to Harlequins. Last week Harlequins came here talking about top four rugby, but now we are going to Newcastle who are at the other end of the table and fighting for survival. That’s a tough old battle, but it is going to be an interesting one to see how we front up.
“I have said all season I will be interested to see how we face challenges and this will be one of those challenges because if we want to become a successful Premiership side in the future we are going to be facing a lot of this kind of games, so I want to see the kind of players who can deal with it.”
A try from flanker Tom Johnson, plus five penalties from the boot of fly-half Gareth Steenson, proved enough for the Chiefs to avenge their earlier defeat by Quins back in September, and Baxter wants to see more of the same from his players against the Falcons, who themselves were left pointless following their loss at London Irish.
Baxter added: “We talked after the Harlequins game and said the disappointment would be if we don’t follow it up. Whatever happens we’ve got the points out of the Harlequins game but we can use that to further things and one of those will be to learn lessons from the intensity we played at and the composure we had at times.
“We’ve got to take that forward week by week. It isn’t easy, but if we can start to back up one performance with another that moves you away from being a bottom third team to a middle third team and those are the next challenges for us.
“We have talked this week that winning away from home is a bit special in the Premiership because you really have to play well in large areas of the game. I think, though, if we do that on Friday night then we’ll give ourselves a great chance of getting points out of the game. You have to target points and get something out of every game you can and that has been our success so far this season.”
With Newcastle skipper James Hudson this week calling on the Newcastle public to turn Kingston Park into a hostile arena, Baxter believes his troops should relish the prospect of what lies ahead.
“I hope it is hostile,” said Baxter. “And I hope it’s a great atmosphere. Players should be playing at this level because they want to go to grounds where there is a great atmosphere, so if there is a great atmosphere up there I think that will suit us as much as if we were playing at home. We often talk that we have a good atmosphere at home, so if they get a good crowd in I think it will be fantastic.”
Add into the mix that the Chiefs visited the same venue just a fortnight ago in the LV= Cup and Baxter believes his side will be fully prepared on what to expect.
He said: “It was nice to have a look at the pitch, we’re aware that if there’s a fair bit of rain this week it could be pretty heavy and soft under foot, that obviously affects a lot of things you do.
“We feel pretty comfortable with that and we’ve obviously had a good look at their team because they went pretty strong two weeks ago.
“I don’t think we’re going to feel under-prepared when we go there, I think it’s going to be a really good mental challenge for us. If we get that right we give ourselves every opportunity – you don’t tend to win away from home if you’re a bit off.”
Not surprisingly Baxter has named an unchanged starting XV for Friday’s match. The only change he makes comes on the bench where Argentine prop Ignacio Elosu is called up for the injured Hoani Tui.
EXETER CHIEFS TEAM TO FACE NEWCASTLE FALCONS
15 Luke Arscott
14 Matt Jess
13 Jason Shoemark
12 Sireli Naqelevuki
11 Nic Sestaret
10 Gareth Steenson
9 Haydn Thomas
1 Brett Sturgess
2 Neil Clark
3 Chris Budgen
4 Tom Hayes (capt)
5 James Hanks
6 Tom Johnson
7 James Scaysbrook
8 Richard Baxter
16 Chris Whitehead
17 Ben Moon
18 Ignacio Elosu
19 Chad Slade
20 James Phillips
21 Junior Poluleuligaga
22 Ryan Davis
23 Phil Dollman