Exeter Chiefs head coach Rob Baxter is hoping he and his side can put to bed the frustration of recent defeats – and produce a big display when they welcome Saracens to Sandy Park in Sunday’s Aviva Premiership clash (2.15pm).
After narrow back-to-back losses on the road to Northampton Saints and London Welsh, Sunday’s showdown represents a welcome return to home comforts for the Chiefs, who kicked off their league campaign with a powerful 43-6 display against Sale Sharks on Devon turf.
Standing in their way this weekend, however, will be a Saracens side who themselves have started the season brightly with victories over London Irish and Sale, before battling out a 9-9 draw with Leicester Tigers at Wembley Stadium last time out.
It will be another tough examination for Baxter and his squad, but one the group are keen to take on after their recent disappointments.
"Yes it was frustrating not to win those games, but that’s what it is," said Baxter. "Every game of Premiership rugby is tough and at the end of the day we came away with something from both those fixtures. Our major aim was to be competitive in every game and we were certainly competitive up in Oxford.
"We would have liked to have won – of course we would have – and did we feel we played as well as could have? Of course we don’t. But there is still a reality that in the closing stages we were six points up, but then made a couple of mistakes and the game got away from us. We’ve done that to other teams ourselves in the Premiership and sometimes you have to take it on the chin and say today we weren’t good enough. As I said afterwards, it’s not the end of the world, but we know we have to be better next time."
Certainly both games have heralded positives for the Chiefs and it’s those that Baxter is keen to focus on ahead of Sunday’s match, rather than reflect too much on the negatives which arose.
"It was our best performance we’ve ever put in at Northampton," he added. "Whilst it wasn’t our best performance away from home at London Welsh – and sometimes you have to take it on the chin. There are various reasons why things happen and on occasions you just have to face facts and get on with it.
"For us there is no great panic and we haven’t massively changed anything this week. Instead we have just got down to some hard work, we’ve talked about the mistakes we made, and we’ve tinkered one or two things as look to get stuck into the Saracens game. We have done that every single week in the Premiership, whether we have won or lost, and this week is no different."
For sure part of the discussion inside the confines of Sandy Park this week will be on cranking up the performance levels in a bid to combat the threat of the former champions, who have won all but one of the four previous Premiership meetings between the two clubs.
"They are a very good side and we’ve only beaten them once in the four times we’ve played them in the Premiership," warned Baxter. "But there are a lot of teams with a similar record against them. They play a very attritional style of rugby, which can be tough to break down, and it will be a great test for us.
"That, however, is what the Premiership is all about – if we are not a team and a set of players who don’t want to be tested like this – then we shouldn’t be here. We keep reminding ourselves of that every week and I do think it tends to bring the best out of us. Looking at the guys this week, I think we will have a performance full of energy, full of vigour and we will have guys who will play better than they did last week."
Certainly the Chiefs will need to be at their best against a Sarries side, who won last season’s fixture at Sandy Park 17-13.