Whitten reckons Exeter Chiefs have enough quality to compete with mighty Clermont Auvergne
Exeter Chiefs wing Ian Whitten believes the visit of French giants Clermont Auvergne to Sandy Park on Saturday should hold no fears – if the performance against Leinster can be repeated.
The Devon side lost 9-6 to the European champions in Dublin in their first Heineken Cup game last weekend, when Clermont were demolishing Welsh region Scarlets 49-16.
The Clermont squad is packed full of internationals and the names of some of their players just roll off the tongue. French stars Morgan Parra, Aurelien Rougerie, Julien Bonnaire, Julien Malzieu, Wesley Fofana and David Skrela, Welshman Lee Byrne, Scotland's Nathan Hines and former New Zealand All Blacks winger Sitiveni Sivivatu represent just some of the glittering talent available to last season's beaten semi-finalists.
However, it is a game that Exeter need to win if they are to maintain realistic hopes of reaching the quarter-finals of the competition.
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"Clermont are a fantastic team but, if we play like we did against Leinster on Saturday, we don't need to fear anybody," Whitten said. "Hopefully we can continue playing that kind of rugby and, with our home support as well, that might be enough to see us over the line against them.
"It is a very exciting fixture for us and, if we can get four points, we won't have made a bad start to the competition, after having got a bonus point last Saturday."
It was a very special day for Whitten at the RDS Arena, as he played his first competitive match back in Ireland since his summer move from Ulster to the Chiefs. "It was a brilliant occasion," he admitted.
"I know a few of the boys in the Leinster team, and I knew what the RDS was like and I knew it would be a great atmosphere there – and it didn't disappoint.
"It's very exciting to play in Europe, it's something I enjoy doing, and hopefully I will get to experience a bit more of it.
"When I walked down the ground at the end of the match, and the Exeter fans were all that was left in the seats, with bits of pink everywhere, it was a good craic, and hopefully they all enjoyed themselves – and hopefully we can give them a good result against Clermont."
While it was Whitten's tenth Heineken Cup appearance, having played in the competition before for Ulster, for some of his Exeter team-mates it was a first taste of the prestigious tournament.
Incredibly, 11 of Exeter's starting line-up were promoted from the Championship with the Chiefs in 2010.
"They are all good lads at the club, and I was very pleased for a lot of them on Saturday, that they got out there and experienced the Heineken Cup – Tom Hayes and boys like that, who came up through the Championship with Exeter," said 25-year-old Whitten.
"They deserved that, but unfortunately we didn't get the result. But you can see we are good enough to be mixing it in this competition and we have just got to take a lot of positives out of the game.
"We were playing well at times and we just let it slip at the end. I think, on another day, if one or two things had gone our way, we could have beaten them, and to have run them so close and not won is gutting in a way.
"We did a lot better than people expected, but hopefully we will beat them at home when they come to our place in January."