Exeter Chiefs make changes for visit of Saracens
Exeter Chiefs will be without international forwards Tom Johnson and Craig Mitchell for their clash with Saracens at Sandy Park tomorrow as coach Rob Baxter makes three changes to the side that lost at London Welsh last week.
England ace Johnson and Wales prop Mitchell were both injured in the defeat at London Welsh and are replaced by Carl Rimmer and James Phillips. Haydn Thomas is given his first start of the season at scrum-half, while there is a tactical reshuffle in the pack with Ian Whitten and Phil Dollman trading places.
The Chiefs will be looking to bounce back from a disappointing defeat in Oxford last week, but they know they are in for a tough task against a Saracens side they have beaten only once in four previous Premiership encounters.
"They play a very attritional type of rugby that can be difficult to break down and it will be a great test for us, but that is what the Premiership is about," Baxter said.
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"If we are not a team or a set of players that want tests and want tough games, then we shouldn't be here. We keep reminding ourselves of that and it does tend to bring the best out in us.
"I think we will have a performance full of energy and vigour and we will have guys keen to play better than we did last week."
Last season, the Chiefs went down to a 17-13 defeat at Sandy Park, but the performance that day pleased Baxter. He has called for a repeat tomorrow, but wants his side to be more clinical when in possession of the ball.
"Last season we made more ball carries, cleared more rucks and played more than we had ever done before," he said. "The reality, though, is that although we kept the ball and we played for long periods of time, we didn't get too much to show for it. We know they are tough to break down and they have a solid set-piece, but these are things people already know.
"You don't win the Premiership because you are a poor side; you have strengths right across the board. That said, we also feel we are a good side and have things to offer. We have caused most teams problems in various aspects of our game, so for us it's about putting in an 80-minute performance, full of energy and as we always say 'let's go for it' and play in a way that gives us an opportunity to win."
Tomorrow marks the start of five mouthwatering encounters for the Chiefs, with the visit of Saracens followed by Leicester Tigers (away) and Harlequins (home). Chiefs then begin their eagerly-awaited Heineken Cup campaign with a trip to Leinster before Clermont Auvergne fly over to Devon.
"We have still got a lot of players in the squad which, if you look at this next batch of fixtures, this is what it is all about," said Baxter. "This is why they worked so hard in the Championship and why they have worked so hard to stay in the Premiership. To play Saracens, Leicester, Harlequins, Leinster and Clermont – they are dream fixtures.
"Ideally you would not want them one after another, but they are the fixtures that if you want to be a top-class Premiership player, these are the games which if you thrive in those environments – not only will you come out as a better player, but you start to appreciate the calibre of player you are."
Exeter Chiefs: Arscott; Dollman, Whitten, Naqelevuki, Jess; Mieres, Thomas; Sturgess, Whitehead, Rimmer; Hayes (capt), Hanks; Phillips, Scaysbrook, Baxter. Replacements: Alcott, Moon, Budgen, Muldowney, White, Chudley, Steenson, Nowell.