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Exeter Chiefs striving to regain momentum against Ulster after hitting a rough patch

By Michael Sadlier

Published 22/10/2016

Pumped up: Rob Baxter wants a response after the opening loss
Pumped up: Rob Baxter wants a response after the opening loss

It was quite a reality check. All week the noises being made at Exeter Chiefs have been about how they intend to react with fury after last Sunday's thumping at the hands of Clermont.

And the soul-searching has also included the rather pressing need to stir themselves into action after coming into Europe off the back of some patchy enough form in the Aviva Premiership.

After all, they can hardly rely on what occurred in the previous campaign from happening again.

In Europe, the unfancied Chiefs topped a bizarrely tight scrap in Pool Two, when just one point separated all four sides, and the West Country outfit made it through after the tournament rules had to be more rigorously examined than usual to establish who had prevailed.

It proved to be quite a season for them too as, after dramatically losing to a Wasps side inspired by Charles Piutau's heroics in their European last eight clash, the Chiefs also made it to the Premiership final before falling to Saracens.

But all that was back then. The here and now sees them badly needing to regain momentum both in Europe and, indeed, domestically where they recently drew with Gloucester and lost to Northampton.

Head coach Rob Baxter hasn't ducked the issue and has stressed how vital it is for the Chiefs to now refocus and make a clear statement of their intentions to become a side that can consistently perform again on two fronts.

"At the moment I would describe us as being a reactive team, rather than a pro-active team," Baxter said before mentioning how they are currently suffering despite having the ball.

Indeed, the stats from the Clermont thrashing make striking reading and show that the Chiefs dominated possession and territory, which just goes to show that the game is all about what you actually do with the ball that really counts.

Baxter has tweaked his side by teaming former Ulster player Ian Whitten - who usually togs out on the wing - and Henry Slade in a new-look midfield designed to shore things up defensively as well as bring Slade's attacking talents to the fore.

James Short is on the left wing after Whitten's move while, up front, hooker and club captain Jack Yeandle comes in for the injured Luke Cowan-Dickie and Mitch Lees is brought in at lock for Damian Welch.

A lot will also be expected of Ulsterman Gareth Steenson's game management at out-half but massive performances must be delivered by second row Geoff Parling along with the Chiefs' mighty back-rowers Julian Salvi and Thomas Waldrom.

For the Chiefs, all their talking must now be backed up by definite action.

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