Chiefs determined to make life tough for Saracens in play-off clash

19 May 2017 01:54

Exeter boss Rob Baxter accepts the Chiefs will need to "physically and emotionally" challenge European champions Saracens in Saturday's Aviva Premiership play-off showdown.

A repeat of last season's Premiership final sees Exeter aiming to book a second successive Twickenham appearance, while Saracens, who will be without injured captain Brad Barritt, are two wins away from completing a league title hat-trick.

Back-to-back European and domestic trophy doubles are also in their sights, and Exeter head coach Baxter knows the size of his team's challenge at Sandy Park.

"I think our ball-carrying, our ball retention and our set-piece has been particularly good in attack over a large part of the season, and we've got to make sure that holds itself up," he said.

"Obviously, defensively we have to control the gain-line when Saracens are coming at us, and being decisive in our decision-making is going to be very important because Saracens traditionally put a lot of pressure on teams who beat themselves by being indecisive and second-guessing themselves.

"The truth is, they've had a tough game (the European Champions Cup final six days ago), so we have to play in a way that physically and emotionally challenges them.

"What Saracens have shown is they are very good at recharging their batteries physically and emotionally, so it is a challenge."

Exeter are unbeaten in the Premiership since Bath toppled them almost seven months ago, but they drew and lost the two regular season games against Saracens this term.

"I think we learnt from not dealing with the final last season as well as we could have done," Baxter added.

"The things you have to do day-by-day to look like possible champions, and I think we've addressed a lot of those things. That makes me feel like we've got a great chance."

Regular season table-toppers Wasps face Leicester in front of an expected 30,000 Ricoh Arena crowd on Saturday, with Dai Young's men looking to go one better than last season and reach a first Premiership final since 2008.

But Leicester, despite finishing 18 points behind Wasps and seeing their campaign dominated by coaching upheavals, have reached the play-offs for a 12th successive time.

"Finishing top of the pile is a great achievement, but unfortunately you don't get anything for that," Wasps rugby director Dai Young said.

"We set out to be in the top six and then the top four, and to finish top is something that the group hadn't done before.

"We are really proud of our history and tradition, but we want to make our own history and get people talking about the players we've got now, rather than the sides that came before us.

"We have now hopefully got two massive games in front of us. We can only look at one game at a time, and certainly the Tigers will want to come and spoil the party on Saturday.

"We know they are capable of it, but it's up to us to get our best game prepared. Wasps and Leicester have had a huge rivalry over the years, and you have to applaud their consistency at this level.

"We've fallen away a bit in recent years compared to them, but we are getting back there now.

"It is going to be a great occasion, and we know that if we don't play to the best of our abilities we will lose, as they are a quality team."

Leicester are without injured trio JP Pietersen, Maxime Mermoz and Tom Brady, but head coach Matt O'Connor added: "All the lads have been working incredibly hard and putting their hands up for selection, and there have been some tough decisions to make.

"The buy-in from the players has been first class, and we've been building some momentum in our performances.

"But we know we have to be very accurate in everything we do because Wasps are a class outfit and they have been the best team over 22 rounds of the season."

Source: PA