ROB Baxter thinks Exeter Chiefs’ games against Saracens and Bath in the last fortnight have been perfect preparation to return to the Heineken Cup.
European champions Toulon – with their squad packed full of international superstars – head to Sandy Park this Saturday for the Pool Two clash.
It is a game that should test Exeter to the limit, with Toulon only losing the lead in the French Top 14 league on Saturday after a weakened squad lost at Stade Français.
But while opposite number Bernard Laporte rested players for the game against the Chiefs, Baxter thinks his side’s tough matches in recent weeks will have the players battle-hardened ready for this weekend’s eagerly-anticipated clash.
The Sandy Park head coach said: “I think it’s probably the better way to go into it having had some tough challenges because the Heineken Cup tends to be a step up in intensity and you have to get an awful lot right.
“All I know is that we really look forward to our Heineken Cup games. I think the European games have brought the best out of us all through our time in the Premiership.
“We have to make sure it brings out the best in everything we do again. I have no doubt it will, I think it will be a fantastic occasion.
“The game’s been sold out for a long time now, it’s a game our supporters have been eyeing up since the start of the season, and everything makes it a really big fixture.”
The match sold out within 36 hours of tickets going on sale last month, with the final few hundred tickets that were returned by sponsors being snapped up on Monday morning.
Baxter hopes his players embrace the magnitude of the match as far as the supporters are concerned, but he knows they will have to be at their best to get anything out of the game.
“We’re going to take it for what it is,” he said. “It’s a very big game to be part of, we’ve worked extremely hard to be involved in games like this.
“That will be the message to the players. To work as hard as they have for such a long time, when they get to games like this is not the time to worry about how you’re going to play, it’s the time to go out there and give it everything and show what a good player you are and what a good side we are.
“I am pretty confident it’ll bring out the best in us, but to will have to if we are going to be competitive on the day.”
This season is Exeter’s second foray into the Heineken Cup, having played defending champions Leinster and French giants Clermont Auvergne last term.
Baxter thinks the games against those sides will leave his players better prepared to face Toulon this weekend, and back in the south of France next Saturday.
“As you go along through the European games you learn an awful lot,” he said. “You learn about the intensity you have to have but you also learn the little bits and pieces that opposition teams do.
“I don’t think we could have had a better pool for our first time in the Heineken Cup, with Clermont and Leinster in there.
“It should make us better prepared than we were this time last year just because we’ve got a group of players who have got more experience of what’s coming at the weekend.
“As Tommy Hayes has said for a long time, just playing in a game of rugby doesn’t mean much unless you make sure you understand the experience you’re getting and you actually stop and reflect on it. You get right into the thick of it – if the game’s going on around you it won’t do you much good.
“That’s the approach we’ve got to have on Saturday. We’ve got to be right in the thick of it right from the start – when we do that we’re competitive against anybody.”
With no fresh injury concerns from last weekend, Baxter has a full squad to select from for the clash against the Chiefs’ star-studded opponents.