Rob Baxter is targeting Exeter’s “biggest performance of the season” when they face Heineken Champions Cup opponents Northampton on Sunday.

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A Chiefs victory at Sandy Park would see them reach the tournament’s semi-finals for the first time.

Current form suggests they will achieve it comfortably, with Exeter 31 points above Saints in the Gallagher Premiership and hosting a side reeling from five successive league defeats.

The prize is a last-four home clash against Toulouse or Ulster next weekend, and Baxter knows it is an opportunity his players must not let slip.

“We’ve been looking forward to this game for a while,” Exeter rugby director Baxter said.

“As I’ve said to the players this week, this should be our biggest game of the season so far and that they should be getting ready to put in their biggest performance of the season.

“As a group, we have to hope – and expect – that we see something special on the pitch at the weekend.

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“What we have to do is make sure we get everything we can right and correct, and that we focus fully on ourselves and not let anything distract us.”

Exeter’s solitary previous appearance in the Champions Cup quarter-finals came four years ago against Wasps when they lost to the game’s final kick.

Baxter added: “We played exceptionally well on the day, and we came as close as you are ever going to get to winning a game, only to concede a conversion in the last seconds of the game.

“Right now, I think we are getting there. We’ve got a fit squad, we are in decent form, training has gone well, but in the back of your mind it’s still a one-off game.

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“All week, we’ve talked about how we have to prepare to face the very best Northampton side, because there is no reason, especially when you look at their squad, that they can’t make something happen on the day.

“That means we have to prepare and be the best Exeter Chiefs team that we can be. If after that we go out there, perform to our best and still come up short, that’s sport.

“What we cannot afford to do is let the moment or the opportunity pass us by simply because we haven’t been willing to commit everything to the game.”

Northampton’s preparations have been dominated by an injury crisis at loosehead prop, with four players in that position sidelined, meaning a start for 19-year-old Manny Iyogun and emergency loan signing Alex Seville featuring on the bench.

And Saints will arrive in Devon on the back of a Premiership defeat against Leicester that left rugby director Chris Boyd searching for answers.

“The result against Leicester was our worst performance for two years,” Boyd said. “It was really poor.

“I can’t explain particularly why that was, but we had some fairly serious dialogue the following day and had a really good meeting on Tuesday.

“We have trained with as much enthusiasm and energy since I have been here.”

Meanwhile, European Professional Club Rugby (EPCR) announced that Sunday’s Challenge Cup match between Leicester and Castres has been cancelled after three players and a member of staff from the French team tested positive for Covid-19.

The quarter-final had been due to take place at Welford Road, but an EPCR statement said the decision was taken to call off the contest following a meeting of the Medical Committee.

As a result, Castres will forfeit the match, sending Leicester through to the semi-finals.

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