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Chris Bentley: Chiefs have the experience to cope with our recent setback

By Exeter Express and Echo  |  Posted: January 10, 2013

Chris Bentley

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THE narrowest of losses on the road, a draw at home to our bogey team and a defeat to a team who we had a lot more possession than was not really what I was expecting from the fixtures over the festive season.

However, it is what we got and it's fair to say the last three weeks have been a body blow to the Chiefs. Fortunately, we have experience of over coming such knocks.

A few seasons ago, when we were gearing up to win the Championship, the squad was locked in the gym for three weeks and had a bit of a blip on the pitch. Pundits were quick to suggest the wheels had fallen off but the coaching staff remained calm and focussed as their eyes were on the longer-term goal of promotion. We all know what happened then.

The Premiership squad we have now will be playing in the most attritional competition in the northern hemisphere this weekend and will be smarting from the recent blip but, of more importance, the players are still fresh and ready to go.

It's unfortunate that we didn't edge past Gloucester, Bath snuck a late score and that we didn't get a losing bonus point against the Saints, but the top six is still only a win away and the play-off spots six points.

As we contemplate a four-week break from Aviva Premiership action stuck in seventh place, the previous seven weeks of victories seem a long time ago. However, the fact remains over the last 10 weeks the Chiefs are on a 70 per cent win ratio and have successfully rotated most of the squad over the last month or so to such an extent that all of the forwards have had at least one week's complete rest.

With the challenge of Clermont Auvergne at the Stade Marcel Michelin – where they are unbeaten over the last three seasons and 53 games – the stage could not be better set for another famous Chiefs performance.

We all know that our boys like nothing more than a game nobody but the inner sanctum gives them a chance of winning. I think the stage may well be set just right.

Put yourself in the boots of Jim Scaysbrook. On the back of a man-of-the-match performance against your old club Bath that ended in a rather disheartening draw, the only thing you would want is to set the record straight the following weekend yet you have a week off. I can guarantee big Jim will be champing at the bit to get back in the mix this week and will be a better player for the extra week to heal his body that goes where others fear to tread!

'If we've been resting players surely we should still be getting the results', I hear you cry. Well unfortunately not. As we've been moving players around, there have been lots of new combinations throughout.

This may seem like nothing, but a slight lack of familiarity can be the difference in the rarefied air of the Premiership. I imagine rotation will continue for the LV= Cup games but I would expect to see a more settled selection for the Heineken Cup and when we bounce back into Premiership action.

With England's Six Nations squad being announced this week, I wanted to blow the trumpet for some of our boys.

Now that we are established within the Premiership, I feel it only right that we should be seeing a few more of our guys getting the ultimate honour of representing their country when Stuart Lancaster names his teams.

However, Tom Johnson is the only current Chief to receive an England cap and is the only one in either the EPS or Saxons squads this time around.

When you look at our team there is an evergreen member, Richard Baxter, who is currently playing the best rugby of his career and should not be overlooked so easily.

Statistically Richie is there or thereabouts with regards carries, tackles and metres made and I feel if the England squad was to be selected on the basis of who is the best English player right now, he would most certainly be in.

Additionally, the third member of the Chiefs' back row, Jim Scaysbrook, and the ever-improving Matt Jess should have been in the frame.

Saturday, February 2 sees the Chiefs take on the Saints yet again but this time in the LV= Cup. However, it will also be the first Exeter Chiefs past players' day since the move from the County Ground.

The brainchild of two of the club's stalwarts, Bob Staddon and John Lockyer, the day will provide a chance to celebrate those that helped lay the foundations to get us where we are today.

It promises to be a fantastic day where lots of the old school will get together, reminisce and enjoy what will be a great day at Sandy Park.

For anyone who may be contemplating giving the slightly lower profile LV= Cup game a miss, I would suggest you think again as the club will be buzzing with the old boys making sure the traditions of the club are as alive today as they ever were!

From the Pugsley boys rocking the bar with on-demand performances straight out of the family songbook, to the hard men Gary Willis and Trevor Harris sat in a dark corner remembering some of their epic tussles and the only man with ears that stick out as much as me, Mike Cook, remembering running out alongside the original Baxters, there will be history oozing out of the club. Be sure to be there.

Until the next time, stay safe and enjoy your rugby.

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