Rob Baxter targets Exeter Chiefs Cup win against Scarlets
Tomorrow's Heineken Cup game at Scarlets is Exeter Chiefs' best chance for a maiden win in the competition yet, according to head coach Rob Baxter.
The Devon club were defeated in their opening two matches, during their debut season in European rugby's top competition.
They came within three points of a memorable win on match day one, in Dublin, against the current holders Leinster.
Chiefs learned some tough lessons the following week against Clermont Auvergne, when Sandy Park hosted Heineken Cup rugby for the first time.
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Since then, their Aviva Premiership form has improved and they fifth in the table after five consecutive wins in all competitions.
They now face Scarlets, who are second in the RaboDirect Pro 12, and Baxter feels this could be their best chance of a first win in the Cup so far.
He said: "Potentially, it is our best chance of a Heineken Cup win, not because of any particular weaknesses within the Scarlets.
"With us losing our two opening games and them losing their two opening games, there is an element of it being a little bit about pride.
"It is a relatively local game and I like to think there will be two very well-supported teams for both games. We hope that brings the best out of us and that gives us the best opportunity to get some points.
"It is a must-win game in a way but we never entered the Heineken Cup saying it is all about where we ended up in the table. We want to give every game a real go and make sure the players experience everything they can from the Heineken Cup.
"I think we've succeeded on that front, in some ways more than we anticipated. We gave it a real go in Leinster and played some really good rugby. We kept the ball for long periods of time and showed real ambition.
"Potentially, we could have come away with the win and we showed the same kind of qualities against Clermont – we just had a bad ten or 15 minutes when the game was ripped away from us."
Baxter says some of the credit for their recent good form should be taken by their Heineken Cup opponents.
He said: "We've experienced some great things and I'd like to think that going for those game and playing with ambition, rather than a damage limitation mode, is one of the things that has moved us on as a team.
"I think, it has meant that are in a better position in the Premiership this year than we were last year," said Baxter.
"There was a World Cup last season and that has not been the case this time. The Premiership has been a lot more full on with tighter competition between the teams and we are doing a bit better.
"The Heineken Cup has been good for us and we want these next two games to improve us as a team as well.
"I like to think they learned that if you play with real intensity, play together and follow through on a game plan they can be a good side. We were very competitive against some of the best sides in Europe.
"But I think they also learned that if you slip off that intensity, you can get hurt very quickly. Those lessons are some of the toughest you can learn in rugby. That has been a big strength of ours – knowing we are not the finished article as a team, a group of players and coaches. We can all get a bit better."
Baxter and his assistant Ali Hepher expect Scarlets' threat to come as much from the forwards as their backs.
"Scarlets are a good side with a lot of threats," said Baxter. "Analysing their game, they do like to play a driving game. They are not just about playing through their backs every single time, despite them having half the Wales back line there.
"There is a little bit more to them than that. Their forwards are a useful outfit and we have had a good look at that. We do have to be aware that there are threats right across that back line. Whether they will all be back from Wales, fit and running, we don't know yet but we have to prepare for that challenge."