Rugby: Exeter ‘flying’ as Saracens visit

Exeter Chiefs director of rugby Rob Baxter (pic Simon Galloway/PA)

Exeter Chiefs director of rugby Rob Baxter (pic Simon Galloway/PA) - Credit: PA Wire/PA Images

Exeter Chiefs rugby director Rob Baxter says he expects his side to be “flying along nicely again now” after losing three of their last four Aviva Premiership games.

The defending champions halted a run of defeats by beating Northampton last time out, and they face a top-of-the-table clash against Saracens at Sandy Park on Sunday.

Despite their recent barren run, Exeter are four points clear at the Premiership summit with just six games left as the play-off picture begins to take shape.

“What we have to remember is we are still top of the Premiership,” said Baxter.

“We are a little bit like an F1 car which has picked up a bit of an engine problem mid-race, but having made the odd tweak here and there, I am expecting us to be flying along nicely again now.

“The last three or four weeks have been a bit of a roller coaster. There is no doubt we started the season well and we had great intensity.

“Also, we had a good pre-season, the players took on board lessons from last year where we didn’t have a great pre-season or a strong opening, this despite us going on to later win the Premiership.

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“For all of us, that was a real indicator and real reminder that you can still set high standards and expect more from yourselves, even if you have been successful before that. And, as I said, a lot of what we have done this season has been good and had the intensity, focus and drive that we ask for.

“In hindsight, there was always going to be a period where that would wain a little bit, and as coaches we perhaps didn’t pick up on that as quickly as we should have.”

England number eight Sam Simmonds has recovered from a shoulder injury suffered against Wales three weeks ago, and is named among Exeter’s replacements on Sunday, while changes to Chiefs’ starting line-up include opportunities for full-back Phil Dollman, centre Henry Slade, fly-half Joe Simmonds and flanker Dave Ewers.

Lock George Kruis returns from England duty as one of only two changes for Saracens’ trip to Devon.

Kruis partners Dominic Day in the second-row, with flanker Ben Earl replacing Schalk Burger and Nick Isiekwe switching to blindside flanker.