Exeter Chiefs determined to prove a point in challenging clash with Clermont
Exeter Chiefs centre Jason Shoemark says his side have travelled to France with a point to prove in the Heineken Cup.
The Devon club have enjoyed an excellent debut season in European rugby's premier club competition.
They pushed title-holders Leinster in their first-ever game before failing to a 9-6 loss in Dublin.
A week later, Sandy Park hosted the competition for the first time when Clermont Auvergne's clinical finishing saw them to a 46-12 victory.
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Those two sides meet again today at the Stade Marcel Michelin and Chiefs are keen to prove they are now a better side, having learned from those great experiences earlier in the season.
Shoemark said: "We've been stepping up over the last few years and there is probably no greater challenge in Europe at the moment than going to Clermont. It is another chance for us to go and prove ourselves in this competition.
"It's exciting. You don't get too many opportunities to go to a place like Clermont and feel the atmosphere. I've heard it is unreal and it's something we can look forward to and enjoy."
The October clash has been reviewed and deconstructed by the Chiefs this week. Arguably, the events in that match helped shape many of Exeter's subsequent victories.
After losing to Bath on their Premiership return, Chiefs won their next seven games in all competitions during November and December.
A crucial part in many of those performances was a psychological toughness and unwillingness to allow setbacks to affect a performance – as it did during the second half against Clermont at Sandy Park.
"We were in it for 50 or 60 minutes and then they stepped up another level," said Shoemark. "We just have to play for 80 minutes and try to put some pressure on them. We need to try and score some points early and put some doubt in their minds.
"It will be very tough because they are such a great team but that's what you've got to do.
"Clermont won't give us too many opportunities but if we can take the one or two they give us, we might be able to put them under some pressure.
"We are just going to play our normal game and get stuck in and start taking some of those opportunities that we've created."
Turning pressure into points has been a slight struggle for Chiefs in recent weeks. They have lost to Gloucester drawn with Bath and then lost to Northampton Saints.
However, Shoemark said: "We don't feel as though we are too far away at the moment and we are still playing some good rugby. In the last few weeks we have created a lot but not finished it off."
Chiefs are currently third in Pool Five with little chance of progressing into the knock-out stages. Shoemark is unconcerned by the prospect of elimination and just wants to learn as much as possible from their matches against Clermont, Leinster and Scarlets.
He said: "The Heineken Cup is right up there, obviously we have had a tough pool this year and there are class international players right the way through all the teams.
"As a player you relish these opportunities to test yourself against the best players in the world – which a lot of them are. It is a massive challenge for the Chiefs but it is one we all enjoy and we want to have a bit of fun over there.
"They are very flamboyant and if they get their tails up they will take you apart.
"You have to put pressure on them and try create doubt, if you do that, you might get a good result."