Chiefs set to be without key trio for game against Harlequins
EXETER Chiefs are set to be without a trio of key players for Saturday's trip to defending champions Harlequins.
Head coach Rob Baxter expects Jason Shoemark (knee), Dean Mumm (ribs) and Hoani Tui (head) to miss the next couple of games after they picked up knocks in last weekend's 47-16 win against London Welsh.
That means the likes of Phil Dollman, Ian Whitten and Damian Welch will be pushing for recalls, while Baxter must decide whether to put Wales prop Craig Mitchell into the starting line-up on a weekend off from the Six Nations or hand Alex Brown his first start in the Premiership.
Baxter said: "They are all looking relatively serious but not long-term. The injuries are going to put them out for a little while but we're not anticipating having long-term issues."
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Last weekend's bonus-point win over the Exiles has given the Chiefs renewed hope of climbing into the top six as they bid to qualify for next season's Heineken Cup.
They are currently eighth, one point behind seventh-placed Bath and just eight behind Gloucester, who are fourth.
Baxter knows his side will soon start to climb the table if they can string some wins together in the remaining six games of the campaign.
"There's a group of clubs around the middle of the table and we're all within one or two wins of each other," said Baxter.
"If you can put a run together and get excited about the end of the season, you could see yourself knocking a couple of teams off above you pretty quickly.
"We've got a nice set of fixtures and it keeps things in our hands. They're a tough set of fixtures but the Premiership's always like that.
"It's about us rolling our sleeves up, going out there and playing well. We should look at things very positively and what we can achieve.
"We had some tough games in the run-in this time last year and we got on with it and collected enough points to qualify for the Heineken Cup. We've got to be excited that that's still a possibility for us."
After facing Harlequins this Saturday – and having the next two weekends off as they are out of the LV= Cup – the Chiefs host Leicester and travel to Worcester. They also welcome London Irish to Sandy Park, play away against Wasps and entertain Gloucester on the final day of the season.
With Worcester and Irish not safe from the drop yet and the other sides all battling it out for the title or a Heineken Cup spot, Exeter face teams with something to play for in every match. Baxter hopes his players will relish that challenge.
"With six Premiership games left, you can almost see that as six cup games," he said. "They're all potentially there to give you something at the end.
"It isn't about us building a season, it's about us going for it. When we go for it we're pretty good and I want to see us being excited and going for it."
The first challenge to overcome is Harlequins at The Stoop, a ground where Exeter are yet to win in three attempts.
While the Londoners will be without some of their England stars, Baxter knows his side still face a big test at the weekend.
"They are a team that's bang in form, they're buoyed by the way their internationals are playing in a successful England side and they've got the strength in depth to be able to deal with that as well," he said.
"They can get a bit of a swagger about them and they're enjoying what they're doing. You've got to be impressed and admire that in them."