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Play-off pursuit hots up for Chiefs

Exeter boss Rob Baxter says the Chiefs are determined to keep matters in their own hands when they face Aviva Premiership play-off rivals Saracens at Allianz Park on Sunday.

Baxter's men, who host Sale Sharks in their final regular-season game next Saturday, must beat Saracens to effectively keep alive hopes of a top-four finish.

Exeter have never previously made the play-offs and they would appear to be vying with Leicester and Wasps for the final spot.

Northampton and Bath have already booked their places for the May 23 semi-finals, as will Saracens if they topple Exeter.

But the Chiefs are fired up to keep themselves in the hunt, which would mean them bouncing back after a defeat against Wasps last time out.

"One thing you know when you go to Saracens is that you have to lay a lot of energy into the game," head coach Baxter said.

"I think we are quite good at that and it has given us a good focus going into this week.

"That said, we know we will have to put in a fantastic performance if we are to get anything from the game.

"We have never been at this stage of the season where we have been in an LV= Cup final, been in a European semi-final and pushing at the very top end of the table.

"In some ways, a win at Saracens would make the last round of the Premiership massively exciting for us, and I think that's what we have to do.

"We have to lay it all out in this one game and see what happens.

"It's similar for Saracens. They will want to win, and they are a team that are used to being there at this stage of the season, so it will be great to see which team handles the pressure the better."

Gareth Steenson starts at fly-half for Exeter, with Henry Slade moving to centre instead of Jack Nowell, while hooker Luke Cowan-Dickie also features and Ben White returns to the back row.

England number eight Billy Vunipola misses out for Saracens with what the club describe as a "slight ankle complaint," so Jackson Wray replaces him, packing down alongside Kelly Brown and Jacques Burger.

Behind the scrum, England centre Brad Barritt is sidelined by a knock, meaning a role in midfield for Chris Wyles alongside Marcelo Bosch.

Baxter added: "Saracens, we know, are a very good side and they don't run away from what they are good at.

"We have had a couple of really good fixtures against them this year, and I think our boys have a great respect for them because we like to think of ourselves as a hard-working club, and Saracens think the same.

"I think going into this weekend, we know things stay in our hands if we win.

"If we lose it, then it will be tough to get into that top four. However, it won't mean we have not had a good season. If we win, though, it would mean we keep this season exciting and going for a lot longer."


From Belfast Telegraph