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Chiefs can thrive in high-pressure environment of Premiership final, says Slade

Published 22/05/2016

Exeter star Henry Slade is relishing the prospect of facing Saracens in next Saturday's Aviva Premiership final
Exeter star Henry Slade is relishing the prospect of facing Saracens in next Saturday's Aviva Premiership final

Henry Slade wants Exeter to feel inspired by the occasion when they face Saracens in an Aviva Premiership title showdown at Twickenham next Saturday.

Just six years after clinching promotion to English rugby's top flight, Exeter go into a winner-takes-all clash against the current European champions.

While Saracens are red-hot favourites to complete a first domestic and European trophy double by an English club since Wasps in 2004, the Chiefs have no intention of being bit-part players.

Their gripping 34-23 victory over play-off opponents Wasps means they are now just 80 minutes from possibly becoming the ninth different club in 29 years to be crowned English champions after Leicester, Bath, Harlequins, Northampton, Newcastle, Sale Sharks, Saracens and Wasps.

"You don't want to put the occasion to the back of your mind because that gives you a lot of drive," Exeter's England international centre Slade said.

"It's the Premiership final. You win that, you are champions of England. You don't need much more motivation than that. If we make the most of the occasion, we will be right on it.

"We have got to the final, we've got a week to re-set ourselves, and we will go from there.

"The boys like a challenge. Over the last few seasons we've slowly progressed and progressed.

"Last season we were disappointed not to get in the play-offs. This season, once we got ourselves in with a shout, we had our minds set on a home semi-final. We did that and now we've got a final.

"I know they (Saracens) have done the double on us this year, but we did the double on them last year. We definitely know we can beat them.

"Maybe we are surprising other people, but internally there is a massive expectation and we have a lot of confidence in our ability."

Saracens crushed Exeter 36-18 at Allianz Park just eight weeks ago and their play-off demolition of Leicester only seven days after they won the European Champions Cup suggests it will take a Herculean effort by the Chiefs to deny Mark McCall's men a successful Premiership title defence.

"We have been going well the last few weeks," Slade added. "We've had a really high work-rate and our defence has been awesome.

"They are definitely a strong defensive side too, so that will be a key part of the final.

"Last time we played them at their place, in the first half we didn't come out of the blocks quickly enough. We will try not to make the same mistake this time."

The good news for Exeter and England is that Slade appears to be approaching peak form going into the final and next month's three-Test Australia tour, following a season that started with World Cup misery and then saw him suffer a broken leg and ankle ligament damage which meant three months' sidelined.

"I have put it (the injury) behind me now," he said.

"The first few games I came back expecting to pick up where I left off. I was getting frustrated by not being up to pre-injury form and it took a few games to get my confidence back.

"I had a lot of chats with the coaches about how I was going to get through it. I just went back to basics, just focussing on my job. That was pretty good for me."

Slade will be an integral part of Exeter's victory bid next Saturday and Chiefs head coach Rob Baxter is relishing the challenge that Saracens will present.

"If someone said to me is there one team you want to face in the final and one team you like to have the opportunity to beat, you would have to say Saracens because they have been the stand-out side all season," he said.

"They've finished top of the Premiership and they've just won Europe, so if you are going to win the Premiership, let's go up against a very good side and see where it takes us."

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