Rob Baxter prepared for tough test when Exeter travel to Harlequins

Exeter coach Rob Baxter
Exeter coach Rob Baxter

Rob Baxter is braced for "a big battle" when unbeaten Gallagher Premiership leaders Exeter visit Harlequins on Friday.

The Chiefs have won all eight of their league games this season and collected six bonus points.

They lead the Premiership on points difference from unbeaten rivals Saracens, with third-placed Wasps a mammoth 14 points behind.

Rugby director Baxter has chosen to rest his sizeable international contingent following the autumn Tests, while England wing Jack Nowell is currently sidelined because of a hamstring injury.

"By their own admission, Harlequins have been a bit patchy on form," Baxter said.

"But the trouble with teams who are patchy is you don't know which patch you are going to hit.

"What we have to be prepared to do is go up there, work very hard and kind of not have that breather when you look too far ahead.

"What we have to do - and what we've talked about a lot this week - is to focus on what is in front of us, which is a big battle up at Quins.

"They've obviously had a change of coaching staff with Paul (Gustard) coming in, and you can see straightaway that their defensive stats are hugely different to that of last season.

"Straightaway, that means they are a harder team to play against because there is no guarantee of points unless you are willing to work very hard."

Exeter return to European Champions Cup action with home and away games against Gloucester next month, while they face three Premiership games - including Saracens at home - either side of Christmas.

And Baxter added: "We've now got a big 10-week block of games coming up, so you have got to look at your options.

"Yes, it was a bit of a gamble a few weeks ago taking a lot of the front-line players out for a three-week period during the Premiership Cup block, but you've got to be prepared to give guys a little bit of time off if you want to be performing at the tail end of the season.

"Where it has been different this year is that we've had a lot more guys away with internationals during the autumn period, and we've got other injuries to contend with.

"That said, it has meant others have been asked to step up, and what we've actually seen is a thickening out of our entire group."

Quins, bolstered by the return of England prop Kyle Sinckler from Test duty, lie fifth in the table, 19 points behind Exeter.

"We were frustrated last week at Worcester where we dominated possession and territory but failed to maximise the opportunities of the nine clean breaks we made against a well-organised defence," Quins head of rugby Paul Gustard said.

"Now, we look forward to the visit of the league leaders. I have huge respect for Rob Baxter, and his Exeter team present a very strong challenge."

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