Follow all the action on the RugbyPass live blog from the Gallagher Premiership match between Exeter Chiefs and Sale Sharks at Sandy Park.
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Rob Baxter has urged his Exeter players to emerge from the Six Nations period with a stranglehold on the Gallagher Premiership.
The Chiefs lose Luke Cowan-Dickie, Harry Williams, Ollie Devoto and Stuart Hogg for at least this clash with Sale at and potentially for the entire Championship. Henry Slade, Jack Nowell and Tomas Francis would also be on international duty but for injury.
For all the absentees, Baxter views the next eight weeks as an opportunity for Exeter to seize control of the Premiership and land some telling blows in the title race. “The Six Nations creates another interesting dynamic, but it’s one you want to have,” Baxter said.
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“You want to be in this scenario where a few players head off because it shows those players are performing to the very top of their game. I have no issues with that. The thing I have issues with is if we drip back into Premiership mode.
“This is where we have to show people – and ourselves – how important the Premiership is. You don’t win the Premiership based on a couple of performances at the end of the year, you have to get through an awful lot of hard work first.
“If we want to keep this season in our hands, we have to collect points regularly, and you have to collect a lot of them regularly.
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“If we want to stay in the top four, the top two or whatever our goals are, the work starts here, not in a month’s time or after the Six Nations.
“It starts here and now and I want to see if we can accelerate through the Six Nations period because this is when you can hurt others around you, as well as benefit yourself.”
Exeter have lost Joe Simmonds for three matches after the fly-half was banned for three weeks for a dangerous tackle against La Rochelle last weekend. They face Northampton in the quarter-finals in April.
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Sale, meanwhile, have named an experienced side after giving an opportunity to some of their club’s academy prospects in the final round of the Heineken Champions Cup pool stages.
EXETER CHIEFS: 15. Phil Dollman; 14. Tom O’Flaherty, 13. Ian Whitten, 12. Sam Hill, 11. Olly Woodburn; 10. Gareth Steenson, 9. Stuart Townsend; 1. Ben Moon, 2. Elvis Taione, 3. Enrique Pieretto, 4. Dave Dennis (capt), 5. Jonny Hill, 6. Dave Ewers, 7. Jacques Vermeulen, 8. Sam Simmonds. Reps: 16. Jordon Poole, 17. Alec Hepburn, 18. Marcus Street, 19. Sam Skinner, 20. Matt Kvesic, 21. Jack Maunder, 22. Harvey Skinner, 23. Tom Hendrickson
SALE SHARKS: 15. Simon Hammersley; 14. Chris Ashton, 13, Sam James, 12. Rohan Janse van Rensburg, 11. Byron McGuigan; 10. Robert du Preez, 9. Will Cliff; 1. Ross Harrison, 2. Rob Webber, 3. Jake Cooper-Woolley, 4. Bryn Evans, 5. Jean-Luc du Preez, 6. Jono Ross (capt) 7. Ben Curry, 8. Daniel du Preez. Reps: 16. Curtis Langdon, 17. Coenie Oosthuizen, 18. Will-Griff John, 19. James Phillips, 20. Matt Postlethwaite, 21. Gus Warr, 22. Luke James, 23. Marland Yarde.
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