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Baxter ready to attack

Exeter will kick off their second season of Heineken Cup rugby on Sunday with head coach Rob Baxter satisfied that foundations are in place for his players to attack the tournament.

The Chiefs warmed up for an opening Pool Two clash against Cardiff Blues by claiming a record Kingsholm victory over Gloucester six days ago.

And Baxter is relishing the prospect of Exeter mixing it in a group that also includes Heineken Cup holders Toulon and unbeaten RaboDirect PRO12 leaders Glasgow.

Exeter failed to progress beyond the pool stage last season, but they beat Scarlets home and away and only lost 9-6 against three-time European champions Leinster in Dublin.

"I guess what we learned from last season were things like the intensity of the game, the pressure of playing in this environment and the importance of taking bonus points, keeping your error-count low and staying disciplined," Baxter said.

"Also, I think it is important that we revel in and enjoy these big moments and these big games.

"Finishing that first block of Premiership games with a win like that (against Gloucester) was huge for us.

"Not only was it very satisfying results-wise, but it has given us the foundation to go out and enjoy attacking the Heineken Cup. We have talked about going after this competition as hard as we can."

The Blues head to Sandy Park spearheaded by their British and Irish Lions stars Leigh Halfpenny, Sam Warburton and Alex Cuthbert, and Baxter added: "They have threats all over the field.

"Our guys are going to be playing against British Lions and Wales internationals, so we know it's going to be a tough game for us. We are aware that we will need to stay tight defensively and not make individual errors.

"I keep saying to our guys that good players and good teams get better under the pressure.

"Players who go on to play at international level tend to be the players who perform well at club level, get better at Heineken Cup level and then get better again at international level.

"They are the guys that thrive at the top end, and that's what I want from us. I want to see guys who are better in the Heineken Cup than they are in the Premiership. That is the challenge."

Exeter's former Blues wing Tom James will miss the game after suffering an ankle injury during training, so Fetu'u Vainikolo deputises, while centre Jason Shoemark takes over from the promising Sam Hill in Exeter's midfield.

"We know the physical battle we will face, and we have got to be ready to match that," Blues boss Phil Davies said.

"I know what the English league is like and how pragmatic it can be. Exeter have been that, but they have also tried to open their game up and play more expansively. They are an exciting side.

"It's eight versus eight up-front and a real battle, but there are battles all over the pitch in terms of physicality, speed and power. The word intensity in the player's minds has got to be at the forefront this weekend."

Toulon, skippered by Jonny Wilkinson, host Glasgow on Sunday, when new signings Michael Claassens, Martin Castrogiovanni and Ali Williams all start, but Glasgow's Scotland full-back Stuart Hogg misses out through injury.

Hogg has undergone surgery on a wrist injury, and with his fellow full-back Peter Murchie (dislocated shoulder) also sidelined, Scotland and Lions wing Sean Maitland wears the number 15 shirt.

Sunday's other game is an all-French affair in Pool Four, with Racing Metro hosting last season's Heineken runners-up Clermont Auvergne.


From Belfast Telegraph