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Baxter braced for French revenge

Exeter head coach Rob Baxter is braced for "some kind of backlash" from European Challenge Cup opponents La Rochelle at Sandy Park on Saturday.

The Chiefs took charge of Pool Two by claiming a bonus point win in La Rochelle eight days ago and they will be expected to collect more points at the French club's expense this weekend.

But Baxter said: "The challenge is that there's an assumption from everybody that La Rochelle will see themselves as being out of contention and will just come over here to fulfil the fixture.

"That is always a worry, because in these two-legged games most times a team wins the first leg well, (but) they find it a different story second time around.

"The mental challenge is so different.

"The winning team feel they've done the hard part of the job. The team that lost are a little bit annoyed, don't have much to lose and come out and put in a big, emotional performance to prove they were disappointed with the week before.

"I am expecting some kind of backlash that they do not want to concede another four tries and they will want to go away and beat a Premiership side. That means it could be a very tough and physical challenge."

Baxter makes a number of changes from the side that won 36-10 last time out, handing starts to the likes of Phil Dollman, Ceri Sweeney, Greg Bateman and Don Armand.

London Irish need to beat Pool One leaders Cardiff Blues at the Madejski Stadium on Saturday, otherwise their hopes of securing a quarter-final place will suffer a blow.

But Irish face a tough task, especially as Blues' solitary change from the team that won last weekend's fixture between the clubs 24-14 sees a return for Wales captain Sam Warburton.

"It's fantastic to be top of the pool after three games, but we've achieved nothing yet," Blues rugby director Mark Hammett said.

"We have three hard games to contend with before we can even think about the possibility of knockout rugby

"We still haven't put together an 80-minute performance, which we are working so hard to do. That's our challenge, and we need that consistency going forward."

Pool Five leaders Gloucester, meanwhile, make six changes for an away appointment with Italians Zebre as Jonny May, Callum Braley, Richard Hibbard, Sila Puafisi, James Hudson and Ben Morgan are all called up following last weekend's 35-10 win against the same opponents.

"We know there are certain things that we have to do better than last Sunday," Gloucester rugby director David Humphreys said.

"As has been the case in many weeks recently, we created lots of opportunities but haven't managed to hang on to the key pass to finally put a team away.

"We need to perform better than we did last week, reduce the error-count, reduce the penalty-count. If we do that, we believe that we are the team that can win the game."


From Belfast Telegraph