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Exeter boss Rob Baxter calls for mental toughness ahead of Clermont test

Published 19/12/2015

Exeter head coach Rob Baxter knows that the Chiefs face a major European Champions Cup examination against Clermont Auvergne
Exeter head coach Rob Baxter knows that the Chiefs face a major European Champions Cup examination against Clermont Auvergne

Exeter boss Rob Baxter believes that mental toughness must be an essential part of the Chiefs' armoury when they face arguably European club rugby's toughest mission on Sunday.

Baxter's men visit French Top 14 leaders Clermont Auvergne, eight days after beating them 31-14 in Devon to underline that Exeter mean business in the European Champions Cup this season.

Clermont, though, have not lost a European tie at their Stade Marcel-Michelin fortress since October 2008, and they know that victory is essential this weekend in order to keep themselves in the Pool Two shake-up.

"It's very easy to talk about a lot of positives, especially from last weekend, but the truth is we have to go to Clermont and do it all again," Exeter head coach Baxter said.

"Reputations can get dented over there as quickly as they can be built up over here, so that is the battle for us.

"We need to be mentally tough, and know we have to perform to a high level to be there or thereabouts against them.

"That's going to be the important thing, and we need to show the qualities we have been doing, stay tough when they score, and stay even tougher when we score.

"We did that very well last week, and that battle is going to be very similar, albeit in a tougher environment, this weekend."

Exeter's second-half performance last Saturday, when they scored 21 unanswered points, rightly won rave reviews. It was a display of collective excellence that rocked Clermont to the core, and Baxter is ready for another intense occasion.

"As most people are aware, they've not lost a European top-flight game there for seven years, so history says the challenge of going there and winning is very tough," he added.

"We have to expect to play well and we have to stop them doing what they do well. We did it at home, but obviously challenges are tougher away from home.

"French rugby is renowned for being emotionally-driven, but that's what I like about it. I am a big believer in it, and we are that kind of team ourselves.

"I like to think we are a very emotionally-driven team, and I think that will be the deciding factor on Sunday. It's the team that can bring the biggest focus on intensity and emotion that will ultimately come out on top."

Injuries mean that the Chiefs will be without wing Olly Woodburn and scrum-half Will Chudley from last weekend's game, with Matt Jess taking over from Woodburn and Dave Lewis making his first start of the season as Chudley's replacement.

Exeter's Aviva Premiership colleagues Leicester will take a major stride towards the Champions Cup quarter-finals if they beat Welford Road visitors Munster on Sunday.

After winning in Limerick last Saturday, the unbeaten Pool Four leaders have established considerable momentum, and just two changes from that game see starts for Peter Betham in midfield and fly-half Freddie Burns, who replaces Owen Williams after the Welshman jarred a knee at Thomond Park.

Munster, though, are already scrambling to keep up with the pace set by Leicester, and head coach Anthony Foley knows his players need a vast improvement this time around.

"We just weren't good enough (last Saturday). We conceded three of the softest tries I've seen us concede," Foley said.

"We didn't take our opportunities. When you work so hard to get close to the line, that's when there is pressure on your attack, but we didn't look after the ball. A couple of times we kicked away too much ball, gave away a couple of soft turnovers and didn't put pressure on them

"But in the scrum and the maul, Leicester beat us fair and square. Now it's up to us to go to Welford Road and reverse the result."

Sunday's other game, meanwhile, sees Ulster visiting Toulouse in Pool One, a week after inflicting a 38-0 defeat on the four-time European champions.

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