EXETER CHIEFS Work in progress... but Hepher positive

Gallagher Premiership logoNobody said it would be easy, but Exeter Chiefs head coach Ali Hepher believes short-term pain will ultimately lead to long-term gain.

Unlike recent years where Devon’s finest have often led the way at the top of the Premiership standings, this term they find themselves with work to do over this second half of the season.

Nine points adrift of the final play-off berth, the Chiefs know they can ill afford too many more slip-ups between now and the end of the regular season.

Last Saturday’s narrow 18-14 loss at London Irish saw the Chiefs slip to seventh in the standings, putting further pressure on them to secure points from their upcoming home games against Wasps today and Gloucester next week.

Neither game will be easy - such is the nature of English rugby’s top flight this season - but with key personnel again missing for the Chiefs through international call-ups and injuries, the hosts will once again be utilising the full depth of their squad.

In recent weeks a glut of the club’s emerging talent have been thrust centre stage, both in the Premiership and in Europe, and Hepher has been impressed with how they have performed under pressure.

“There have been lots of positives, especially last week against was a very established London Irish side, packed with experience and internationals,” he said. “We went up there with a side that was nowhere near as strong as the one we put out against them down here, but I thought their effort and endeavour was second to none.

“Obviously, we made a few errors, but they were errors of youth and young guys just not experiencing certain situations. They will be better for that - and that’s the important thing. No one gets there overnight and you have to go through certain processes. If you think back, we spent a lot of time in the middle of the table before we started reaching finals. We had guys like Nowellsy, Sladey, Dickie, who were learning their trade, just as some of these guys are now.

“What’s exciting is that they are getting really good exposure, learning from each game, but also getting those work-ons to become that all-rounded player for the future. These experiences are invaluable and will be good for all of them, especially three or four years down the line, when they will be featuring regularly in the first team.”

Alongside the stars of the future, the Chiefs are also looking to their more established names to help play their part, especially during this current Six Nations block of action.

“We know where we are, we monitor things all the time,” explained Hepher. “As coaches and as a squad, we just have to look at keeping our performances strong, both individually and collectively. If we improve week on week, then we give ourselves a great chance.

“As we’ve said again this week, we just have to keep fighting and keep those effort levels as high as we can. If we knock teams off and start to claw back some of those points, getting us back into that top four, then that in itself could be one of our best achievements as a squad.

“A bonus point last week away from home you would tend to call a par score in the past. Now, we’ve got two games at home, back-to-back, where we know we have to roll our sleeves up and give our fans something to get behind. We have to approach the game as confidently as we can and look to hit the pitch with the same attitude as we showed for the first 20 minutes last week. The only difference this time is, we need to keep that effort going for much longer.

“If we can do that, then we will give our fans something to get behind and well know what this place can be like when it’s rocking.”

Team news for the Chiefs sees Alec Hepburn return from his three-game suspension to start in the front-row, while behind him Jannes Kirsten moves from the back-row to the second-row, where he will partner highly-rated Welsh lock Dafydd Jenkins, who is set to make his first-ever Premiership start.

Other changes to the pack see Richard Capstick and Santiago Grondona, another making his first start for the club, join Dave Ewers in the back-row.

Behind the scrum, Sam Maunder gets the nod over brother Jack in the number nine jersey, whilst other changes see Tom Hendrickson run out in the centre, while Josh Hodge starts at full-back with Stuart Hogg away on international duty.

Exeter starting 15 Josh Hodge
14 Olly Woodburn
13 Tom Hendrickson
12 Harvey Skinner
11 Tom O’Flaherty
10 Joe Simmonds (capt)
9 Sam Maunder

1 Alec Hepburn
2 Jack Innard
3 Patrick Schickerling
4 Jannes Kirsten
5 Dafydd Jenkins
6 Dave Ewers
7 Richard Capstick
8 Santiago Grondona

16 Jack Yeandle
17 Ben Moon
18 Josh Iosefa-Scott
19 Lewis Pearson
20 Max Norey
21 Sam Hidalgo-Clyne
22 Sean O’Brien
23 Facundo Cordero

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