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England centre returns as mid-table Exeter seek to climb Prem ladder

By Ian Cameron
(Photo by PA)

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Exeter Chiefs have been boosted by the return of England centre Ollie Devoto as they look climb out of the middle of the Gallagher Premiership table against Bristol Bears on New Year’s Day.

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Devoto returns to the starting line-up for the first time since the home game against Newcastle Falcons in early November. Ian Whitten makes way, dropping down to the bench.

In the forwards, Sam Skinner moves from the back-row to the second-row with Jannes Kirsten coming in at openside.

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“It’s fitting that we’ve got a derby to kick things off, but it’s the team who will have to create the tone and the atmosphere, not the supporters,” said Exeter Chiefs DoR Rob Baxter. “We have to be the ones who give them something to get excited about. We did it well here against Saracens and we did it well in the second half against Montpellier, but now we have to do it again this week.

“Bristol, we know, will be tough opponents. You only have to look at their performance last week against Leicester Tigers to see that. That wasn’t a performance of a side who are down the other end of the table. They could easily have won that game and nobody would have questioned anything.

“What we are seeing this season is a hugely competitive Premiership, where every game is a real challenge.”

“We have got a bit of something to put right on that front,” warned the Chiefs boss. “We’ve lost our last two home games against them, so we have to expect a real top-of-the-table clash. If we prepare like that, then I think we give ourselves every chance of winning the game.”

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EXETER CHIEFS:
15 Stuart Hogg
14 Jack Nowell
13 Henry Slade
12 Ollie Devoto
11 Tom O’Flaherty
10 Joe Simmonds
9 Jack Maunder
1 Alec Hepburn
2 Luke Cowan-Dickie (capt)
3 Sam Nixon
4 Sam Skinner
5 Jonny Hill
6 Dave Ewers
7 Jannes Kirsten
8 Sam Simmonds

REPLACEMENTS:
16 Jack Yeandle
17 Ben Moon
18 Josh Iosefa-Scott
19 Sean Lonsdale
20 Don Armand
21 Sam Maunder
22 Harvey Skinner
23 Ian Whitten

BRISTOL BEARS: 15. Charles Piutau, 14. Luke Morahan, 13. Semi Radradra, 12. Sam Bedlow, 11. Ioan Lloyd, 10. Callum Sheedy, 9. Harry Randall, 1. Yann Thomas, 2. Harry Thacker, 3. Kyle Sinckler, 4. Joe Joyce (c), 5. Chris Vui, 6. Fitz Harding, 7. Dan Thomas, 8. Nathan Hughes.

REPLACEMENTS: 16. Will Capon, 17. Jake Woolmore, 18. John Afoa, 19. John Hawkins, 20. Mitch Eadie, 21. Andy Uren, 22. Piers O’Conor, 23. Henry Purdy.

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