EXETER will take an unbeaten record spanning seven games across three separate competitions with them into today’s west country derby against Gloucester at Kingsholm.
And, if the Chiefs can repeat last season’s dramatic one-point victory on Gloucester soil, then it could take them into Aviva Premiership title play-off territory.
Exeter are currently sixth in the table, one place below Gloucester, but such is the Premiership’s fiercely-competitive nature this season they are only five points behind leaders Harlequins. “We’ve faced some big challenges already this season and thrived on them, but going to Kingsholm at Christmas time in a local derby is what it’s all about, really,” Exeter coach Rob Baxter said. “There won’t be a bigger challenge than going to Kingsholm. They are a team that is bang on form. You look at their results this season and if they don’t win games, they lose by very little. That is the mark of a really solid team. They may not be quite as exciting as they have been in other seasons when the tries were flying in but, if you look at their results and where they are heading as a team, then they are a side that are tough to play.”
Exeter are unbeaten for almost two months, having reeled off three Premiership wins, two Heineken Cup victories and a couple of LV= Cup successes, and Baxter added: “The Premiership is really the bread and butter of what you are all about.
“Getting into the Heineken Cup comes on the back of your Premiership form, and we have based everything we have done here on how well we play in the Premiership.”
Gloucester rugby director Nigel Davies accepts that form points to the encounter being decided by fine margins.
“There is not much between us and the top, and there is not much between us and Exeter,” Davies said. “It really makes the game very interesting, and it will tell us a lot, at the midway point of the Premiership season, about exactly where we are. We are coming up against a very good, organised and committed team. Our work-rate has to be right up there, and the quality of what we do has to be very accurate in order for us to get a result.”
Saracens rest England international backs Alex Goode and Brad Barritt for the trip to Bath today, when the hosts will welcome back hooker Lee Mears from suspension.
Leaders Quins travel to Northampton today, where they will meet the Premiership’s third-placed team just a week after Saints defeated strong Heineken Cup contenders Ulster 10-9 in Belfast. “We enjoyed last Saturday’s result, but all the chat in the dressing- room was about taking the momentum into tomorrow’s game against Harlequins,” said Northampton rugby director, Jim Mallinder.
“We all know that Harlequins will pose us plenty of challenges. They are on a good run of form at the moment in all competitions, and they’ve shown regularly that they have the temperament and ability to win on the biggest stage, but we know we can win the big games, too.”