Rob Baxter set for tougher test against Clermont Auvergne
Exeter Chiefs head coach Rob Baxter expects an even tougher test in their first-ever home match in the Heineken Cup today.
The Devon club host French Top 14 club Clermont Auvergne at Sandy Park (6pm) after impressing on their Cup debut against champions Leinster last weekend.
But while their narrow 9-6 defeat has been widely praised, the nature of the challenge changes on home soil.
Baxter also recognises that Clermont, another team full of proven internationals, will pose a different kind of threat to their previous opponents.
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"In some ways it is a tougher test," Baxter said. "They have strengths in different areas to Leinster.
"There were 11 or 12 internationals in the Leinster team, that was not a shoddy side and people forget that a little bit.
"They did have players missing but not that many. Clermont have potentially got more internationals in their squad.
"The major danger is that we can't afford to switch off at all. If we have a loose ball or a loose decision, they have a counter-attacking back three that can really hurt you.
"They are a very good side and can keep constant pressure on you.
"When you know it is coming and you can deal with it but when a team can hit from anywhere out of the blue, that is dangerous."
The key will be to ensure Sandy Park maintains its fast-growing reputation as a difficult place to earn a result.
Sale Sharks, Saracens and Harlequins have all fallen in Exeter this season. Clermont, who are currently third in the Top 14, have only twice all season – both times away from home.
"They still have to come to Sandy Park," said Baxter. "We know, in some ways this is a much bigger challenge. It is not our first Heineken Cup game away to the champions. Now we have to show some consistency against a very good side and we have to do it at home.
"They have the rigours of travelling and won't have played here before. We are good team at home if we can make the game about ourselves and that is what we have to do.
"We have talked about being the team that attacks with the ball and let's see what we can get out of the game. We are certainly going to attack it and score tries, then we'll take whatever comes."
A slightly more measured approach nearly paid off last week against Leinster. The Chiefs were the first side to limit them to a single-figure score in 26 Heineken Cup games, but there was still more than an element of disappointment for Baxter and his men.
"It is a difficult one to judge in some ways," admitted Baxter. "There are mixed emotions. We were disappointed but there was also relief and pleasure at going there and doing a good job.
"At the same time, there is a realism that there were elements of the game that weren't quite good enough and we came off second best. We've worked at those this week and had a chat about them.
"We know it is a long-term process, we are building and getting better and staying on the right path. We have been good at that over a number of years and it is something we have to make sure we keep focusing on.
"We are pleased we put in a good performance and that we were there or thereabouts at the end of the game. You are always going to be disappointed when you lose a game by three points but we have managed to shift our focus pretty quickly on to this game."
Baxter has resisted the temptation to tinker too much with his line-up.
Indeed, the Exeter coach has made just one change in personnel with Australian international Dean Mumm handed his first European start in place of James Hanks, who trades places with the second-row on the bench.
Clermont's Scotland international lock Nathan Hines has received a six-week ban for stamping on Scarlets wing Morgan Stoddart last Saturday.
His suspension means French international Julien Pierre is called into the second row.
Exeter Chiefs: Arscott; Whitten, Dollman, Shoemark, Jess; Steenson, Thomas; Sturgess, Alcott, Rimmer; Hayes (capt), Mumm; Johnson, Scaysbrook, Baxter. Replacements: Whitehead, Moon, Budgen, Hanks, Muldowney, Chudley, Mieres, Naqelevuki.