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Exeter hope to tackle fire with fire when facing Wasps' rampant attacking game

Published 06/04/2016

Exeter head coach Rob Baxter is relishing Saturday's European Champions Cup quarter-final clash against Wasps
Exeter head coach Rob Baxter is relishing Saturday's European Champions Cup quarter-final clash against Wasps

Exeter boss Rob Baxter readily accepts the threat that Wasps' all-singing, all-dancing attacking game could pose in Saturday's European Champions Cup quarter-final clash between the Aviva Premiership title rivals.

But Baxter wants the Chiefs to meet that challenge head-on and not retreat when they make their Champions Cup last-eight debut.

Only current Premiership leaders Saracens scored more points than Wasps in the tournament's pool stage this season, with Wasps racking up sizeable victories over Leinster (51-10 and 33-6), reigning European champions Toulon (32-6) and Bath (36-10).

"It's a bit like when you try and look at a magician too much - you actually get mesmerised in seeing all the threats that are there, and you end up defending none of them and you end up not focusing on what you need to do yourselves as a team," head coach Baxter said.

"The best way to nullify Wasps' attack isn't to defend it. The best way is to attack it yourself, to have the ball.

"I think we have got to make sure we remember that. If we are attacking, they haven't got the ball, and that is a pretty good form of defence.

"That's the approach I want us to have. I don't want us to have an approach where we are scared of them, so all we are going to do is lump the ball back down to them and see if we can defend them from their half of the pitch, because that plays into their hands.

"We are going to have to be prepared to be a bit brave, and make sure we play. We've got dangerous players as well - you get the ball into Henry Slade's hands and Jack Nowell's hands - we've got boys who can be very dangerous."

Exeter have already won at the Ricoh Arena in Coventry - venue for Saturday's encounter - this season, claiming a 41-27 victory last December when they outscored Wasps 6-3 on tries, including a hat-trick by number eight Thomas Waldrom as the Chiefs' forwards dominated.

Baxter added: "I think we found a little bit of a chink in their armour that day with our driving game, but at the same time, people will look at the score now and it looks like a comfortable victory, but in the second-half the scores were tied up and we had to pull away again.

"We are expecting it to be a tough game.

"They (Wasps) are a most dangerous team in various scenarios - kind of on the break, in counter-attack, tries out of nothing. You can pin them down as a team a fair bit, then an individual can make something happen.

"I think the big thing that has knocked them on a level is there is a genuine understanding and an organisation there this season that allows those individuals to thrive, get the ball in their hands and let them express themselves.

"The truth is, and I think it is very important in rugby, they genuinely look like they enjoy what they are doing, and that is probably the biggest force you can have as a team."

Even though Exeter have arrived in the Champions Cup knockout phase for the first time during a season that has also seen them position themselves as major Premiership title contenders, Baxter wants more - much more - of the same.

"We are not actually looking at it as a one-off game, because I don't think that is actually the way we should approach these things," he said.

"Now, we are in a position where we should be looking forward to and expecting to be involved in more of these games in the future."

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