Excitement in the air as Exeter prepare to launch European title defence

Rob Baxter says there is “a real air of excitement” as Exeter prepare to launch their European title defence against Glasgow.

It is only eight weeks since Exeter won the Heineken Champions Cup, beating Racing 92 in a memorable final at Ashton Gate.

With the current domestic campaign beginning barely a month later and the Champions Cup off and running this weekend, Exeter have rapidly got back to business.

And after posting three successive Premiership bonus point victories, Chiefs have an added lift of 2,000 spectators being allowed into Sandy Park for Sunday’s opener.

“You can feel a real air of excitement among the group,” Exeter rugby director Baxter said.

“And with us starting our defence at home, with a crowd in for the first time in a long time, there are lots of reasons for us to get excited.

“However, being excited is one thing, but what we have to do is knuckle down and direct all of that energy in the right way.

Harlequins v Exeter Chiefs – Gallagher Premiership – Twickenham Stoop
Harlequins v Exeter Chiefs – Gallagher Premiership – Twickenham Stoop

“That is what we did last year. We set our stall out from game one (against La Rochelle), and that’s what we must do again this year.”

Baxter welcomes back the likes of Stuart Hogg, Henry Slade and Jonny Gray from international duty, but he admitted Exeter’s immaculate start to the league season has caused selection headaches.

“I know every player in our squad wants to be involved in games like this weekend, so with the international lads coming back as well, people are going to miss out,” he added.

“That’s tough, I know that, but we do have a group of players here who understand things.

Exeter Chiefs v Northampton Saints – Heineken Champions Cup – Quarter Final – Sandy Park
Exeter Chiefs v Northampton Saints – Heineken Champions Cup – Quarter Final – Sandy Park

“They are not that naive to look back and see that some of those guys coming back are the same guys who helped us lift two cups (Champions Cup and Premiership) at the end of last season.

“They understand that, but equally it is my job and that of the coaches to make sure they also realise the important roles they have to play.

“For those internationals coming back in, they will know they have to perform to the levels that make them an international, because if they don’t, it will be an easy decision to rotate those players back in again.

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3️⃣ Internationals return to the side as Paul Gustard starts Joe Marler, Ben Tapuai & Mike Brown.

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— Harlequins 🃏 (@Harlequins) December 11, 2020

“If anything, the pressure is on those international players to show why they are at the very top end of the game.”

Elsewhere on Sunday, Harlequins welcome back England prop Joe Marler following the autumn Tests for their clash against Munster in Limerick, while Ben Tapuai replaces centre Andre Esterhuizen, who is serving a four-week suspension.

Injury-hit Gloucester go to Lyon, where they will be without the likes of Billy Twelvetrees, Joe Simpson, Lloyd Evans and Jason Woodward, and Racing 92 host Connacht.