Nowell, Slade and Devoto start as Exeter look to 'put to bed' disappointment
Exeter Chiefs have named a side with more than a sprinkling of stardust as Rob Baxter’s men look to ‘put to bed’ the disappointment of the previous season’s heartbreaking denouement in Twickenham.
While they’re shorn of their Lions’ contingent, the side includes the likes of Jack Nowell, Henry Slade and Ollie Devoto, who all start as the Chiefs head to Welford Road to face the Tigers and a full house of avid supporters in the stadium.
There is also the prospect of a debut for highly-rated Welsh forward Christ Tshiunza. The 6’6, 113kg forward can cover both the second and back rows.
“We’re looking forward to it,” said Baxter. “Sometimes you just have to get on with stuff. It feels a long time since losing the final – and when the last game you play you lose, you are always going to be disappointed. Now, we’re ready to get back and start playing again.
“We’ve talked about things, including the final, and we’ve set ourselves some simple targets, not just about what we want from this weekend’s game, but what we want from the next four games. We won’t look too far ahead of that, but what I do expect this weekend is a good, typical, hard-working Exeter Chiefs performance.”
Baxter is eager to lay to rest the ghosts of a season which saw the title wrestled from their grasp by Premiership underdogs Harlequins.
“Personally, I need to put the end of last season to bed a little,” added the Chiefs’ Director of Rugby. “And I will talk to the players this week and tell them we need to now leave that behind us and move on.
“For all of us, it’s important to have motivations – I will have them in all kinds of different ways – and the players will also have them in their own ways. What we need to do is zone down what all of that looks like; how we achieve it; and how we will start that against Leicester this weekend.”
The Chiefs are also wary of the task of surmounting Tigers in front of a full house of fans in the notoriously partisan rugby hotbed.
“Going to empty grounds during the whole lockdown period was odd, but I think Leicester was probably the most-strangest, just because you are so used to going there and experiencing a full house and a very partisan crowd,” said Baxter.
“Looking to this weekend, I think it’s a great challenge for us, not just because we will be challenged by the place itself, but also by a team who are clearly looking to be ambitious and do things themselves this season. In a lot of ways, I think it’s just what we need first up.
“Leicester, we know, are a top side. Looking at them this week, they look solid and they looked well-drilled. That said, we don’t quite know what they will bring. With the new laws, the fact there is no relegation this season, I don’t think any of us know what type of rugby that will create.
“For us, all we can really do at this stage is concentrate on ourselves, make sure we get our bits and pieces in order and really go out and work hard in what will be a tough game of Premiership rugby. If we win, then we will have deserved to win. If we don’t, it’s probably because we haven’t deserved to win.”
There could also be debuts from the bench for Sam Nixon and Australian lock Ryan McCauley.
EXETER CHIEFS TEAM:
15 Josh Hodge
14 Jack Nowell
13 Henry Slade
12 Ollie Devoto
11 Tom O’Flaherty
10 Joe Simmonds
9 Jack Maunder
1 Alec Hepburn
2 Jack Innard
3 Harry Williams
4 Will Witty
5 Sean Lonsdale
6 Jannes Kirsten
7 Don Armand
8 Rus Tuima
16 Jack Yeandle
17 Ben Moon
18 Sam Nixon
19 Ryan McCauley
20 Christ Tshiunza
21 Sam Hidalgo-Clyne
22 Harvey Skinner
23 Tom Hendrickson
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