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Rob Baxter calls on Exeter to improve on performance levels against Saracens

Exeter will aim to collect the scalp of another title play-off rival when they tackle Aviva Premiership champions Saracens on Saturday.

The Chiefs head to a sold-out Allianz Park after recording five successive league wins, with close challengers Leicester and Bath being their latest victims either side of Christmas.

Exeter head coach Rob Baxter readily accepts, though, that Saracens - they will regain top spot from Wasps with victory - have had the Chiefs' number in recent meetings.

"I don't mind admitting that Saracens have dealt with us very well the last few times we've played them," Baxter said.

"We have definitely got to improve our performance levels from the last couple of times we have played them. We've got to hit the pitch in the right fettle right from the start and not let the game get difficult for us on the scoreboard too early.

"We have fought our way into the top four. It's another top-four clash, and we have come through two of them in the last two weeks. It is not a bad run of games to be on.

"I am pleased we have pushed back into the top four because the destiny of our Premiership season is back in our hands, and that is how you want it to be.

"Obviously, plenty of things will happen between now and the end of the season, but you've got to look at these as opportunities. It's an opportunity for us to go out and show some really good qualities and do something a little bit special within the league."

Saracens are one point behind Wasps - they host Leicester on Sunday - and seven above Exeter, and Baxter added: "Sometimes they (Saracens) get unfairly labelled as being one- dimensional in the things they do.

"But what they do have is a good structure and good organisation, along with a lot of good players who buy into that structure and who are also able to break out of it very quickly to great effect.

"That not only allows them to maximise their effort and work-rate, but they also take advantage of mistakes you make and they have quality decision-makers who can really punish you.

"That is why it's important we turn up with the right attitude from minute one on the weekend, and that our energy levels and our focus are spot-on."

At the other end of the Premiership table, 10th-placed Sale Sharks could slip into further trouble if they lose against Harlequins on Saturday.

Quins are without injured internationals Chris Robshaw, Jamie Roberts and Jack Clifford, with England flanker Robshaw set to discover on Monday whether he requires surgery or a period of rest to rectify a shoulder problem.

Sharks rugby director Steve Diamond said: "Our ability to convert the game-plan has been difficult. We are going down there with a plan, which prepares us to win. We know we have got to start picking points up."

Bristol, meanwhile, could climb off the Premiership basement if they claim a third successive win by beating Northampton at Franklin's Gardens and Worcester come unstuck against Gloucester.

"Franklin's Gardens presents a fresh challenge to us this weekend, and we have prepared well for what promises to be a hugely-physical test," Bristol boss Mark Tainton said.

"The important thing for us is to not change the way we are approaching games. We've got to play with the same sense of freedom and desire, and we go to Northampton with the belief that we can win."

Wasps greet neighbours Leicester on Sunday with England flanker James Haskell in their match-day 23 for the first time this season.

Haskell has recovered from a toe injury suffered during England's successful Australia tour last summer, and is named on the bench against a Tigers side now headed up by coach Aaron Mauger following rugby director Richard Cockerill's Welford Road exit earlier this week.


From Belfast Telegraph