ROB Baxter has made six changes to his starting line-up for Exeter Chiefs’ Round Eight Premiership trip to The Recreation Ground to face Bath tomorrow (3pm).
The Chiefs' director of rugby makes two changes to his backline and four to his pack as last weekend’s try scorer Josh Iosefa-Scott starts and Stu Towsend makes his first start of the season, having returned from injury in the home clash against Gloucester.
Nika Abuladze starts at loose-head prop with centurion Alec Hepburn on the bench. Player of the match last week, Jacques Vermeulen, retains his place in the back row with Ethan Roots as they are joined by fit-again Greg Fisilau at eight. Jack Yeandle, captain Dafydd Jenkins and Lewis Pearson round out the pack.
Harvey Skinner pairs up with Townsend from fly half while the developing partnership of Joe Hawkins and Henry Slade remains in the centre. Ben Hammersley, Olly Woodburn and Tommy Wyatt then complete the backline.
Baxter was impressed with his side’s 20-14 victory at Newcastle, but he explains the Chiefs are well aware of the challenges that remain to be confronted throughout the remainder of the season – not least this weekend’s clash with fourth-place Bath.
“We got a first away win three weeks into the away calendar, so I’m delighted for the guys. I thought they stuck to the game plan and the task exceptionally well. And that allowed us to come away with some important points and keeps the league position exciting for us," he said.
“We’re aware we’ve got challenges ahead though. We’re not kidding ourselves – we’re not sitting here thinking ‘this is incredible, here we go, we’re on a roll’ – we know we’ve got to work exceptionally hard every week. We’ve got to stick to plans and processes each week.
“What a fantastic round in the Premiership we have this week – all the top six teams are going to play each other. There’s going to be some movement in that top six, that’s for certain.
“I think, for us, going to Bath is a really good challenge. It’s the next step we probably need to go after. Obviously, Bath have had a strong start and they’ve got a bigger group of more established players in their squad. I think a lot of the lessons we took into the Newcastle game are relevant this week as well.
“Bath play a high-pressure game. They know how to keep you out of their 22 and they know how they want their entries into your 22. The battle around that middle third of the pitch is going to be crucial again. We’re having some good practice at that area and I’m expecting us to be strong in that area again.”
On the bench Max Norey, Hepburn and Ehren Painter form the replacement front row. Rusi Tuima and Aidon Davis then cover the remainder of the pack. For the backs, Niall Armstrong returns to the match-day side after is suspension, with Rory O’Loughlin and fans' favourite Ollie Devoto also named.
Bath boss Johann van Graan rotates his squad after a narrow defeat at leaders Sale in Round 7, with Beno Obano and Will Stuart back in the starting front row.
Elliott Stooke get his 2023/24 Bath debut locking in with Charlie Ewels at second row. Miles Reid and Sam Underhill offer up their intensity in the tackle on the flanks, with Alfie Barbeary back at No.8.
Ben Spencer will captain from kick-off, accompanied by Finn Russell at 10, with the pair sitting joint-second for the most retained kicks in the league.
On the wings, Will Muir and Joe Cokanasiga man the wide channels, with Cameron Redpath and Max Ojomoh named as centres.
Matt Gallagher completes the starting line-up at full back after a spell on the wing against Sale Sharks last week.
The referee will be World Cup final television match official Tom Foley.
Bath: Matt Gallagher, Joe Cokanasiga, Max Ojomoh, Cameron Redpath, Will Muir, Finn Russell, Ben Spencer, Beno Obano, Tom Dunn, Will Stuart, Elliott Stooke, Charlie Ewels, Miles Reid, Sam Underhill, Alfie Barbeary. Replacements: Niall Annett, Juan Schoeman, Archie Griffin, GJ van Velze, Jaco Coetzee, Tom Carr-Smith, Sam Harris, Will Butt.
Exeter Chiefs: Tommy Wyatt, Olly Woodburn, Henry Slade, Joe Hawkins, Ben Hammersley, Harvey Skinner, Stu Townsend, Nika Abuladze, Jack Yeandle, Josh Iosefa-Scott, Dafydd Jenkins (capt), Lewis Pearson, Ethan Roots, Jacques Vermeulen, Greg Fisilau. Replacements: Max Norey, Alec Hepburn, Ehren Painter, Rusi Tuima, Aidon Davis, Niall Armstrong, Ollie Devoto, Rory O’Loughlin.
Referee: Tom Foley.