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Steenson - Chiefs can improve

Gareth Steenson has warned that Aviva Premiership play-off contenders Exeter are ready to "push on and achieve more" after positioning themselves strongly for domestic and European success.

Only Saracens - the Chiefs' Sandy Park visitors on Saturday - and Northampton have lost fewer league games than fourth-placed Exeter this season, while Steenson and company also currently top their Heineken Cup group.

It represents an impressive opening two months of the season for Exeter and underlines their admirable progress under head coach Rob Baxter, having only attained Premiership status in 2010.

"We have earned the right to be there, and now that we are there we want to push on and achieve more," Chiefs fly-half Steenson said.

"We should treat ourselves as a top side. We're in the top four in the Premiership and we are top of our Heineken Cup group. It is not easy to do that.

"We are doing well at the minute, but we're well aware over the next couple of weeks that Bath and Saracens are top sides and then we've got Toulon as well. It is something to really look forward to.

"Saracens will be a big test on Saturday. They are the top team in the league, and it is going to be a massive test of the lads.

"They are a physical team, and if you don't bring that side of it as well, you are in for a long afternoon. They have threats right across the park, and they have a lot of England internationals in there.

"First and foremost, they are very disciplined and have a great kicking game. Up front they are physical, but they have other guys with great footwork in the backs.

"We want these big teams coming down. We haven't really performed that well against teams in the top four yet, and it is something the guys are focusing on ahead of this weekend."

Gloucester tackle Harlequins at the Twickenham Stoop on Saturday, with neither side having yet made an impact in terms of their Premiership form.

"It will be an intriguing fixture, normally quite entertaining. The game at Kingsholm last season was one of the best games I've seen for a long, long time," Gloucester rugby director Nigel Davies said.

"But this is a different set of circumstances with two teams desperate for the win, maybe not on top of their games as much as they would like to be. I think it will be quite a tense affair.

"They (Quins) are a quality side. They have been right up there for the past two or three years and probably won't be too happy with their own form right now."

If Saracens slip up at Exeter, then Northampton, who are boosted by returning England players Ben Foden, Lee Dickson and Courtney Lawes, can replace them at the Premiership summit by beating Franklin's Gardens visitors Newcastle.

The Falcons will arrive in the east midlands as clear outsiders, although they have acquitted themselves well so far this term after regaining Premiership status.

"Northampton is a tough proposition for the boys, but this is what we are back in the Premiership for - to play in the big games like these," Newcastle rugby director Dean Richards said.

"We will have to be right on our game to get a result, and hopefully we can build on our solid start to the season.

"We've made a decent start to the campaign - three wins and a losing bonus point isn't a bad return in the Premiership - but there is much room for improvement."

Elsewhere on Saturday, London Irish welcome back fit-again England wing Marland Yarde for their Welford Road appointment with Leicester, and third-placed Bath visit Wasps on Sunday.

"The league table will show that Bath are one of the real threats this season. They recruited very strongly over the summer to add to an already formidable squad," Wasps rugby director David Young said.

"They will come to us with a set-piece that is going really well for them, a strong kicking game and some very dangerous backs, so we have a big task on our hands."


From Belfast Telegraph