Exeter Chiefs’ face Clermont in the European Champions Cup at Sandy Park on Saturday: 17:15 kick-off
Chiefs make three changes with Damian Welch, Don Armand and Ian Whitten coming in
The French side are currently leading the Top 14 table and were the losing finalists in last season’s European Champions Cup
Former England wing David Strettle returns to the Clermont starting XV as one of seven changes
Exeter Chiefs make three changes, which includes bringing Ian Whitten into their starting line-up, as they face Clermont Auvergne after centre Henry Slade was ruled out for up to four months with a broken leg.
The other two changes see Damian Welch and Don Armand return to the pack in place of England duo Geoff Parling and Tom Johnson, who drop to the bench.
Chiefs’ sit second in Pool Two, having taken five points from their first two games, consisting of a defeat at Ospreys and a bonus-point win at home to Bordeaux-Bègles, meaning it’s little surprise therefore that Baxter describes the back-to-back fixtures against the European heavyweights as ‘pivotal’ to his side’s chances of progression in the tournament.
“Right now this Champions Cup pool is still a long way dead for us, but we realise this weekend is going to be pivotal in terms of how we do,” said the Chiefs head coach.
“If we lose this weekend, it will make it very difficult for us to progress. However, if we win, then it makes it very exciting for us.
“As always we will go after the game with the strongest team we can, do everything we can to win the game and then we will roll into next week.
“For now, I just want out lads to go out and show the best of their qualities.
“Yes, there is pressure on us, particularly after losing at the Ospreys and not getting a point there.
“The truth is that you need around 17, 18 or 19 points to make it through a group if you look at previous years, so coming into your third game with just five points does put a bit of pressure on you, especially with our home fixture coming up.
“If we don’t get anything on Saturday, then with three games left you have to look at picking up three wins probably. Where are they going to come from?
“It is tough so there is a bit of pressure, but if you can’t get in the right frame of mind for Clermont Auvergne at Sandy Park with us second in the Premiership and them first in the Top 14 – well, I just can’t see that happening.”
Meanwhile, Top 14 pace-setters Clermont have made seven changes to their run-on side after last weekend’s Top14 win over Brive.
England wing David Strettle is the main returnee for the star-studded French side, who are level on points with Exeter heading into the game.
BETTING ODDS (via SKY BET)
Exeter 6/5, Draw 28/1, Clermont 8/11
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Exeter: Jack Nowell
Clermont: David Strettle
Exeter Chiefs: 15 Phil Dollman, 14 Jack Nowell, 13 Ian Whitten, 12 Sam Hill, 11 James Short, 10 Gareth Steenson, 9 Will Chudley, 8 Thomas Waldrom, 7 Julian Salvi, 6 Don Armand, 5 Damian Welch, 4 Mitch Lees, 3 Tomas Francis, 2 Jack Yeandle (c), 1 Ben Moon.
Replacements: 16 Elvis Taione, 17 Carl Rimmer, 18 Moray Low, 19 Geoff Parling, 20 Tom Johnson, 21 Dave Lewis, 22 Will Hooley, 23 Olly Woodburn.
Clermont: 15 Scott Spedding, 14 David Strettle, 13 Aurélien Rougerie, 12 Hosea Gear, 11 Noa Nakaitaci, 10 Camille Lopez, 9 Morgan Parra, 8 Damien Chouly, 7 Vito Kolelishvili, 6 Peceli Yato, 5 Sébastien Vahaamahina, 4 Paul Jedrasiak, 3 Clément Ric, 2 John Ulugia, 1 Thomas Domingo.
Replacements: 16 Marthinius Van Der Westhuizen, 17 Raphael Chaume, 18 Daniel Kotze, 19 Flip Van Der Merwe, 20 Judicaël Cancoriet, 21 Ludovic Radoslavjevic, 22 Pato Fernandez, 23 Albert Vulivuli.
Date: Saturday, December 12
Venue: Sandy Park
Kick-off: 17:15 GMT
Referee: John Lacey (Ireland)
Assistant Referees: Gary Conway (Ireland), Nigel Correll (Ireland)
TMO: Simon McDowell (Ireland)