Exeter boss Rob Baxter admits animosity exists between the Chiefs and Saracens as the pair prepare to go head-to-head again at Allianz Park. The two clubs have been England’s dominant teams in recent seasons, meeting each other in three of the last four Gallagher Premiership finals.
There is no chance of that happening this year with Saracens relegated following persistent salary cap breaches.
But Exeter have been outspoken in their criticism of Saracens’ salary misdemeanours and that is bound to raise the temperature in north London despite the large gap between them in the table.
“There’s obviously animosity, largely because myself or Tony Rowe (chairman and chief executive) have been happy to make media comments about what we felt about the salary cap,” Chiefs director of rugby Baxter said.
“But they wouldn’t have been different to comments made by any other club, it’s just that our comments carried more weight because we’ve played in finals against them.
“There hasn’t been any love lost between us for seasons. We’ve both been operating at the top end of the Premiership for the last three or four years and the reality is that when you meet in the semi-finals or finals, you battle away in those games.”
With Exeter’s place in the end-of-season play-offs already confirmed, the main focus is on the battle for a top four spot behind.
“There are still 10 points to play for after this weekend,” said Bath director of rugby Stuart Hooper.
“But I do feel pressure from the players and the rest of the staff that we can deliver a program that allows us to go there and give it our best shot.”
Bristol have made 12 changes following their midweek win against Northampton and Bears director of rugby Pat Lam admits continuity in selection is impossible given the congested fixture schedule.
“These boys aren’t robots,” Lam said. “How they entertain everybody with what they do on the field is fantastic, but it takes a big physical load.
“The demands only become too much if you play the same XV every week, which is what people want to see.”
Leicester welcome Northampton to Welford Road with the two Midlands rivals out of sorts.
Both sides have managed just one win apiece since rugby resumed last month.
London Irish are seeking a first post-lockdown victory at home to Worcester, without a win in three.
Irish director of rugby Declan Kidney said: “Worcester are hot on our tails in the league table and a result for them would see them jump above us.
“They will be travelling with that knowledge, so I expect the contest to be a highly competitive one.”
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