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Baxter sets Chiefs challenge

Exeter head coach Rob Baxter has urged his side to maintain the performance levels of their first-ever win at Franklin's Gardens last week when they host Wasps on Saturday.

The 24-18 triumph at Northampton has moved Exeter to within striking distance of last year's Aviva Premiership champions and a win against Wasps could see them go top before Saints travel to Saracens on Sunday.

But Baxter has admitted he has concerns about the Chiefs' ability to follow up last week's monumental effort with another big display after they slumped to a disappointing 29-24 defeat at Newcastle in October, only seven days after a thumping win over Harlequins.

"The truth is I'm a little concerned going into this weekend," Baxter said.

"History has shown this season that we haven't bounced through good performances very well. By that I mean, our last victory against a top four, top five side was Harlequins, yet we then followed it up with one of our poorer performances when we went to Newcastle the following week."

He added: "We've talked a lot about that this week and it's now vital we back last week up with another great performance this weekend. Last week was a very important four points for us, so now we have to make it count - and the only way you do that is by winning the next game."

Unsurprisingly Baxter has largely kept the same squad, with the sole change being Dave Ewers returning at blindside, while full-back Phil Dollman makes his 100th league appearance.

Wasps head to Exeter in fine fettle themselves after thrashing London Welsh 71-7 to wave goodbye to Adams Park last week, although they will be without talismanic captain James Haskell after he was picked by England to face Samoa.

Sam Jones starts in his place at seven as one of three changes, with Bradley Davies and Lorenzo Cittadini returning from international duty to take up spots in the pack.

Wasps director of rugby Dai Young is expecting a close, high-quality encounter as both teams look to build on big results.

"Exeter are currently sitting second in the Aviva Premiership table and that is not by chance. They are a very well-balanced side, who are very physical but also play a good brand of rugby when they attack," he said.

"Both teams go into the game on the back of good results and we have to focus on ourselves and producing the kind of performance we know we are capable of."

Bath, who can also top the Premiership standings for at least a few hours with a win at London Irish, have been bolstered by the return of England duo Kyle Eastmond and Semesa Rokoduguni for their trip to the Madejski Stadium.

Eastmond is reunited with Jonathan Joseph in Bath's midfield, while Rokoduguni also goes straight back in on the right wing after a frustrating few weeks with the national side.

There is further good news for Bath head coach Mike Ford in the forwards, with Matt Garvey making his first start of the season at blindside.

Ford's London Irish counterpart Brian Smith has acknowledged how much of a good side Bath are, but he is still confident his men can bounce back from their defeat at Sale.

Smith, who welcomes back flanker Conor Gilsenan, centre Shane Geraghty and scrum-half Scott Steele to his starting line-up, said: "We're all looking forward to the battle with Bath, they're a quality side and will be buoyed by the return of their England big guns.

"But we've had a terrific week in preparation and our boys are keen to bounce back with a big performance."

On Sunday champions Northampton face a massive test of their credentials as they travel to Allianz Park to take on a Saracens side buoyed by the return of Billy Vunipola from England duties.

Mean while, things do not get any easier for London Welsh as they host Leicester, who have handed Tommy Bell his first league start for the club at full-back.


From Belfast Telegraph