Head coach Ali Hepher is urging his Exeter Chiefs side not to let up in their relentless pursuit of a second Premiership crown, writes Gareth Davies.
The Devonians host lowly Worcester Warriors at Sandy Park this afternoon (Sunday) on the back of three consecutive victories post-lockdown. Prior to Alan Solomons and co travelling down the M5, Exeter had cemented their title favourites tag with two hard-fought wins over nearest rivals Sale Sharks and on Tuesday, Pat Lam’s Bristol Bears.
For Worcester, meanwhile, they have picked up just one win since Premiership Rugby’s resumption and despite suffering heavy losses against both Gloucester and Wasps, they were looking much improved in defeating Harlequins at Sixways on Wednesday evening. With this in mind, Hepher was keen to play down the significance of Worcester’s current league position and insisted that Exeter will have to guard against a team with effectively, little to play for.
“There are different psychologies with every position,” he said.
“There is still top six to fight for and I don’t know the exact numbers, but Worcester will have something to fight for like every rugby side does. Sometimes fighting for stuff can be a burden, so by freeing yourself up, you can become very dangerous as well.
“We need to focus on ourselves and make sure we are in the best nick possible. The psychology for us is to not take our foot off the pedal as we’re in a pretty good position. What we can’t do is get comfortable in training, slacken off in training and lower or standards.
“We can’t miss the odd session or not push as hard as we have been because that is where you straight away, you run into dangers in the Premiership. If the mindset of the players and the coaches is wrong then you quickly put yourself in danger because it’s so competitive. [Worcester] will come and be competitive and challenge us in ways that we might not have seen so far. We need to be aware of that and we need to be able to deal with that and respond in the right way.”
Exeter rung the changes for Tuesday’s table topping clash with Bristol at Ashton Gate with Hepher’s bench full of names that aren’t overly household. Veterans Phil Dollman and Gareth Steenson rolled back the years with virtuoso showings while there were encouraging full debuts for Sam Hidalgo-Clyne and Josh Hodge.
Hepher was therefore understandably pleased that the new faces performed so well and he praised the collective desire of his whole squad too.
He added: “We were real pleased [after the Bristol match] because essentially, having that fresh bunch of guys ready to attack the game was huge for us. You could see it right from the start because of the energy they put in – certainly the physical side of the game.
“It was wet and it was windy and they were difficult conditions.
“Perhaps we didn’t get the fluid type of rugby that we would always like to play but equally, by throwing a bunch of guys together, with different preparations, the challenge was getting them all on the same sheet and ready to perform.
“That’s the beauty of the squad and why it is such a strong squad that they are all capable and all want to buy in to working hard both for themselves individually and for the squad as a whole.
“We got a great performance on attitude and work-rate because it was tough conditions.”