Baxter warns of Bath test

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Published: Friday 26th December 2014 by The News Editor

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Exeter boss Rob Baxter believes his Chiefs side face “probably the hardest fixture this season” when they visit Aviva Premiership play-off rivals Bath on Saturday.

Baxter’s men saw an eight-game unbeaten run halted with defeat against Sale Sharks last time out, while second-placed Bath marched on by crushing west country rivals Gloucester 39-16 away from home.

“Bath away is probably the hardest fixture this season,” said Baxter, whose team currently lie third.

“But that’s a great challenge for us and probably not a bad time to have that on the back of a loss, because there is only one way to go. We have to go up there, fly into the game and see what happens.

“It’s a tough place. Not many teams go there and win now.

“They have established some real quality and it’s something I hope we will get really excited about.

“This is the best we’ve been at this stage of the season and we should be excited about that. I don’t want the players to feel down about Sale, I want them to feel excited about where we are in the Premiership.

“We’re pretty much at the halfway stage of the season now and we’re going fine. We have to concentrate on those good things and not the odd mistake we make.

“What we have to do is get back to doing what we do best – and doing that flat out. If you don’t play flat out in the Premiership you tend to lose games of rugby. There is no area in between.

“We’ve dealt with losses very well in the past and that is what we’ve got to do again. I am not going to dwell on it.”

Bath’s high-profile rugby league import Sam Burgess will be on the bench after scoring his first union try when he started in the Bath United back-row during an A League fixture against London Irish earlier this week.

“For Sam, it would have been a huge relief for him to get that first try,” Bath flanker Matt Garvey said.

“People are watching him and from the outside they expect it to click almost immediately, but it will happen over time, not from the outset.

“He is pushing hard and it will not be too long until he is up there.

“He is keen to learn, he is always around Francois (Louw), who is not a bad player to be learning from really. I still ask him questions myself about playing in the back-row.”

Sale, buoyed by an impressive win against Exeter last time out, host Leicester on Saturday with the Tigers bristling from a defeat to 14-man Northampton six days ago.

Despite Saints seeing skipper Dylan Hartley sent off just 17 minutes into the contest at Franklin’s Gardens, they still proved too strong for Leicester as they tightened their grip at the Premiership summit.

“I don’t think we have beaten Leicester in any competition for about five years,” Sale’s former England wing Mark Cueto said.

“It would be a great win for us if we can get it. We know it will be tough and actually we would rather they were coming up here off the back of a win, not a loss.

“I don’t think anyone saw that Northampton result coming after Dylan Hartley got sent off, so they will be dangerous opposition after that.

“Having said that, we are confident that we will get a result and it will definitely be an advantage for us to play at home.”

Hartley misses the first of three Premiership games his three-week ban encompasses when Northampton tackle Harlequins at Twickenham on Saturday.

Mike Haywood replaces Hartley in the front-row, with Tom Wood taking over as captain, while there is a place on the bench for England prop Alex Corbisiero as he prepares to make his comeback from injury.

Quins will be without injured trio Chris Robshaw, Joe Marler and Nick Evans, but Saracens welcome back skipper Alistair Hargreaves for Saturday’s trip to Newcastle, with Owen Farrell filling the inside centre role outside half-backs Charlie Hodgson and Richard Wigglesworth.

Sunday’s Premiership action sees ninth-placed Gloucester hosting Wasps, who have beaten the west country club on four of their last five league encounters.

Published: Friday 26th December 2014 by The News Editor

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