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Exeter will give Warriors a big test
THERE was a time in the not too distant past when the majority of Warriors fans — and I dare say a fair few of the players and coaches — would have looked down their noses at Exeter Chiefs.
Often seen as ‘just another Championship side’, the Chiefs were never really regarded as a potential Aviva Premiership side — let alone Heineken Cup qualifiers.
So, when they made it to the Championship final in May 2010, many people expected Bristol to secure a quick return to the top table of English rugby.
However, a gritty 9-6 win at Sandy Park in the first-leg was followed by a dominant, promotion-clinching 29-10 success at the Memorial Stadium and Exeter Chiefs had finally arrived in the big time, some 139 years since the club’s formation.
But Rob Baxter’s well-drilled and close-knit Braves were not just there for the ride and, since reaching the top-flight, have dished out more bloody noses than most of the established clubs would care to remember. So much so they find themselves battling it out with the likes of European gentry Clermont Auvergne and Leinster in this year’s Heineken Cup.
What Warriors would give to be in such exalted company, rather than slumming it in the Amlin Challenge Cup against the likes of Rovigo and Bizkaia Gernika.
That then brings us to the question oft-raised in the various bars around the Sixways complex: “What are Exeter doing that we are not?”
No more than five years ago, Exeter would have doubtless modelled themselves on Worcester. Now the tables have turned and Charlie Little, Richard Hill and Co at Sixways would dearly love to be able to swap places with the Devonians.
Warriors will travel to Sandy Park this weekend looking to make it three Aviva Premiership wins out of three, having dispatched rock-bottom Sale Sharks.
However, they will be met by a vastly better side and will have to raise their game a considerable number of notches just to compete with the south-west club.
Exeter don’t really have a side laden with star names, but what they do have is a fantastic team spirit, a game-plan that works well for them and an impressive set of coaches.
If you look down the respective squad lists, there aren’t many Exeter players you’d swap for their Worcester counterparts. Yet, Kai Horstmann was released and went on to join Exeter.
The former England Saxons back-rower hasn’t found life so rosy at Sandy Park, though, so perhaps Exeter’s lesser-known players are a bit better than people give them credit for.