Baxter ready for crunch period

PA Sport
Rob Baxter's Exeter take on Saracens at Sandy Park
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Rob Baxter's Exeter take on Saracens at Sandy Park

Exeter will embark on arguably the toughest five-game schedule in their history on Sunday.

Rob Baxter's men host Saracens, then visit Leicester ahead of facing Aviva Premiership champions Harlequins. In the Heineken Cup, they will meet title-holders Leinster and French heavyweights Clermont Auvergne.

"This batch of fixtures is why the players worked so hard in the Championship and why they have worked so hard to stay in the Premiership," Baxter said. "To be able to play Saracens, Leicester, Harlequins, Leinster and Clermont - they are dream fixtures."

He added: "Ideally, you would not want them one after another.

"But they are the fixtures that if you want to be a top-class Premiership player, these are the games which if you thrive in those environments not only will you come out as a better player, but you start to appreciate the calibre of player you are."

Injuries sideline Exeter prop Craig Mitchell and flanker Tom Johnson for Saracens' visit to Sandy Park, meaning respective call-ups for Carl Rimmer and James Phillips. Scrum-half Haydn Thomas, meanwhile, makes his first start of the season.

Flanker Kelly Brown captains a Saracens side that sees scrum-half Neil de Kock clocking up his 150th first-team appearance. Centre Duncan Taylor and hooker Jamie George make their first starts of the season, with a strong replacements' bench including Matt Stevens and Steve Borthwick.

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