Sport : Rugby Union

Baxter ready for crunch period

22nd September 2012, 01:12pm

Rob Baxter: Reaping rewards for hard work

Rob Baxter: Reaping rewards for hard work

Exeter will embark on arguably the toughest five-game schedule in their history on Sunday.

But Chiefs boss Rob Baxter is relishing the prospect of a four-week programme that will include his team making its Heineken Cup debut.

Baxter's men host Saracens on Sunday then visit Leicester ahead of hosting Aviva Premiership champions Harlequins, before the Heineken Cup sees them meet title holders Leinster and French heavyweights Clermont Auvergne.

"This batch of fixtures is why the players worked so hard in the Championship and why they have worked so hard to stay in the Premiership," Baxter said.

"To be able to play Saracens, Leicester, Harlequins, Leinster and Clermont - they are dream fixtures.

"Ideally, you would not want them one after another. But they are the fixtures that if you want to be a top-class Premiership player these are the games which if you thrive in those environments not only will you come out as a better player, but you start to appreciate the calibre of player you are."

Baxter says there is "no great panic" following his team's defeat against pre-season Premiership relegation favourites London Welsh last weekend.

The Chiefs' surprise 25-24 reversal gave Welsh their first victory in English rugby's top flight, which they followed up by beating Sale Sharks last night.

"It wasn't our best performance away from home at London Welsh, and sometimes you have to take it on the chin," Baxter added.

"There are various reasons why things happen, and on occasions you just have to face facts and get on with it.

"For us, there is no great panic, and we haven't massively changed anything this week.

"Instead, we have just got down to some hard work, we've talked about the mistakes we made and we've tinkered one or two things as we look to get stuck into the Saracens game.

"We have done that every single week in the Premiership - whether we have won or lost - and this week is no different."

Injuries sideline Exeter prop Craig Mitchell and flanker Tom Johnson for Saracens' visit to Sandy Park, meaning respective call-ups for Carl Rimmer and James Phillips. Scrum-half Haydn Thomas, meanwhile, makes his first start of the season.

Flanker Kelly Brown captains a Saracens side that sees scrum-half Neil de Kock clocking up his 150th first team appearance. Centre Duncan Taylor and hooker Jamie George make their first starts of the season, with a strong replacements' bench including England forwards Matt Stevens and Steve Borthwick.

Baxter said: "They are a very good side, and we've only beaten them once in the four times we've played them in the Premiership.

"They play a very attritional style of rugby, which can be tough to break down, and it will be a great test for us.

"That, however, is what the Premiership is all about. If we are not a team and a set of players who don't want to be tested like this, then we shouldn't be here."

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