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Exeter braced for 'one of the toughest fixtures of the season' against Tigers

Exeter will take another step towards their first appearance in the Aviva Premiership play-offs if they beat Leicester at Welford Road on Sunday.

But while the Chiefs are currently nine points above Leicester, Exeter backs coach Ali Hepher is braced for a powerful challenge from the Tigers, who include England centre Manu Tuilagi in their starting line-up.

Tuilagi, provided he comes through Sunday's clash unscathed after his injury woes of the last 16 months, looks likely to feature among England's replacements for the RBS 6 Nations showdown against unbeaten title rivals Wales next weekend, which would see him make a potential Test match comeback appearance.

"It is certainly up there as one of the toughest fixtures of the season, but it's also one of the most exciting," Hepher said.

"As always, it will be a great experience for the guys, but it's also a great challenge for us and just what we want at this time.

"We have worked hard over the last few weeks to get the results we have and we've improved in our training and then taken that into the games.

"For large periods against Bath (last Sunday) we controlled the game, but we did have our moments where we put ourselves under pressure.

"That said, we showed strong character to come through the sticky patches either side of half-time and to then be really in control of the game again."

The Chiefs show a number of changes from that 26-17 success, with Wales prop Tomas Francis featuring in the front-row alongside Moray Low and skipper Jack Yeandle, while former Leicester flanker Julian Salvi returns to the back-row, replacing another ex-Tigers player Thomas Waldrom, who is rested.

One other change comes behind the scrum, where wing Matt Jess takes over from Olly Woodburn, and full-back Phil Dollman makes his 100th Premiership appearance.

Saluting Dollman's achievement, Hepher added: "I think it's testament to Phil that he has achieved such a feat.

"He is a very under-rated player, he holds our back-line together well, feeds in information all the time and he is one of the smartest we have in the squad.

"He also gives us plenty in attack and on the ball, and over the years he has been very consistent. I know Rob (Exeter head coach Rob Baxter) counts him as one of his best signings."

Leicester have recalled wing Vereniki Goneva, centre Peter Betham - he partners Tuilagi in midfield - and prop Logovi'i Mulipola, with fly-half Owen Williams, who suffered a fractured jaw two months ago, named on the bench.

"Every side at this level is tough, especially away from home," Hepher said. "Leicester have quality players, they've probably not got as many international call-ups as perhaps in the past, and they are in good form.

"We know we have be right on top of our game if we are to get anything out of it, but we've trained well this week and the enthusiasm among the lads to get out there, play and attack the game is all there."


From Belfast Telegraph