RICKEY PELLOW says he and his Exeter Chiefs are relishing Saturday’s ‘Derby Day’ Premiership Rugby Cup showdown with near neighbours Bristol Bears.
The two West Country rivals are set to lock horns for the third time this season at Ashton Gate (3pm) – and the stakes could not be any higher as both clubs look to target a place in the last four of the competition.
Pellow’s side are currently unbeaten in their cup defence, having collected a draw at Newcastle Falcons in Round One, before following it up with back-to-back home wins over Bath and Harlequins to currently head Pool One.
The Bears, meanwhile, are themselves firmly in the mix in a closely-fought Pool Three – and they know a first victory over the Chiefs since December 2009 will significantly aid their own aspirations of advancing to the latter stages.
Bristol head coach Pat Lam is aware of the importance of the fixture, not just in terms of qualification, but also in looking to overcome a Chiefs side, who have already beaten his troops twice in Gallagher Premiership battle this term.
Lam underlined his attentions earlier this week by unusually naming his full match-day squad to the wider world several days in advance. On parade will be a glut of international talent, headed up by the likes of All Blacks Charlies Piutau, John Afoa and Steven Luatua, as well as Irish playmaker Ian Madigan, who will start the contest at fly-half.
The Chiefs, on the other hand, will have a completely different starting XV to that which took to the field in last weekend’s narrow Heineken Champions Cup loss to Munster. Underlining the strength in depth that exists at Sandy Park, skills coach Pellow is excited at the challenge that lies ahead for the visitors this weekend.
“If you look at this competition, we’ve tended to use it as an opportunity to rotate a few players in and to rest a few others,” said Pellow.
“We’ve just come out of a testing block of Champions Cup and Premiership games, so we need to rest a few of the guys, but equally games like this give some of our younger players and a few of those more senior guys who need game time, a chance to get out there and play in what is a huge fixture at the weekend.”
It’s a tactic the Chiefs have adopted for a number of years now – and it’s one which clearly seems to work as the Devon club have reached the last four finals, winning two of them, including last year’s success against Bath at Kingsholm.
“Any player will tell you these are the games they want to play in,” added Pellow. “We go to Bristol this weekend knowing not only is it a local derby, but it’s a game with a huge amount on it for both sides. And, if we can win, it will put us into another semi-final.
“Bristol naming their side earlier in the week means we’ve been able to prepare a lot more on the threats we can expect to face, but our main focus has been more on ourselves and what we will bring to the game. As I said, coming out of the Champions Cup last week – which was a massive game for the club – we’ve now got another massive game this weekend to really go after and attack.
“We’re in a good position at the moment in terms of our own qualification, but we know that Bristol this weekend will be a hell of a challenge. It will be tough, of course it will be, but we showed last season in the games against Newcastle in the semi-finals and then Bath in the final, they put out very strong sides against us, that we have a squad here capable of challenging on all fronts.
“And just looking at the guys training this week, you can see they are hungry and excited about the weekend and that they really want to get out there and attack the game.”
Chiefs: 15 Phil Dollman, 14 Alex Cuthbert, 13 Max Bodilly, 12 Tom Hendrickson, 11 Olly Woodburn, 10 Harvey Skinner, 9 Sam Maunder, 1 Moray Low, 2 Jack Innard, 3 Greg Holmes (capt), 4 Josh Caulfield, 5 Mitch Lees, 6 Dave Ewers, 7 Richard Capstick, 8 Tom Lawday. Reps: 16 Elvis Taione, 17 Billy Keast, 18 Marcus Street, 19 Ollie Atkins, 20 Wilhelm Van der Sluys, 21 Joe Snow, 22 Sam Morley, 23 James Short
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