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Votu to make league debut as Exeter Chiefs go Shark hunting

By Exeter Express and Echo  |  Posted: February 07, 2013

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WATISONI Votu will make his Premiership debut as Exeter Chiefs return to league action on Friday evening.

And head coach Rob Baxter is keen to get off to a good start against Sale as they face four Premiership matches in a row that he believes will be 'really important' to their season.

He has made seven changes from the side that started the last league match against Northampton four weeks ago.

Votu is named on one wing, with youngster Jack Nowell coming in on the other flank and Jason Shoemark and Sireli Naqelevuki linking up in the centre.

Will Chudley starts at scrum-half behind a pack that sees the return of skipper Tom Hayes and flanker James Scaysbrook. Ben White makes just his third Premiership start at blindside.

There is also a first appearance in the squad for a Premiership game for Kai Horstmann.

Gareth Steenson will make his 100th league appearance for the club, with Haydn Thomas set for his 150th competitive outing for the Chiefs if he is called upon from the bench.

With games against Saracens, London Welsh and Harlequins to follow over the next few weeks, Baxter knows his side are at a pivotal period of the season.

"These are really important games now," said the head coach. "We want to do well in this year's Premiership. We've been in the Heineken Cup this year and really enjoyed it, we'd like to be there again and that's going to depend on how well we go in the Premiership now.

"Every game is going to be very important. I'm expecting us to play like we did against Northampton (in the LV= Cup), almost as if every game is the game that matters.

"It's exciting entering these four games and where you could potentially go. That's how I want to approach it. I don't want us to be fretting about where the season might go, I want us to be excited about how far we can fire ourselves."

With Gonzalo Camacho carrying a strain, Matt Jess is the unlucky winger to miss out.

Baxter said he wanted to give Votu another chance after he impressed in the LV= Cup games against Bath and Northampton, while Nowell is one of the in-form players.

"It's tough on Jessy, he's been a key player for us in a lot of games, but when a guy's on form it's time to keep him in and keep having a look at him," said Baxter.

"It's nothing against Jessy's form, we just think Vot's on form and he's creating opportunities. We're really pleased with him, his physicality and the impacts he's made have been good.

"It's a bit the same with Jack Nowell. When you look at the games he's played recently, he's scored tries and that's a great attribute to have.

"He's making a difference and when a guy's on that form, when the ball gets to them they're doing things, it's the right time to keep them in.

"Our policy in the Premiership is that we want to go for it and I think that shows our intent."

Connacht-bound Aly Muldowney provides cover for locks Hayes and Dean Mumm from the bench but Baxter said all of them have to play well as Damian Welch is close to getting the nod.

"Damian can count himself very unlucky. There was some good ball-carrying and line-out work from him last week and he's right up there in the mix," said Baxter. "He probably feels frustrated but his moments are right around the corner because some front five forwards are going to have to perform very well to keep him out."

Exeter Chiefs: Arscott; Votu, Naqelevuki, Shoemark, Nowell; Steenson, Chudley; Moon, Clark, Tui, Hayes, Mumm, White, Baxter, Scaysbrook. Reps: Yeandle, Rimmer, Brown, Muldowney, Horstmann, Thomas, Mieres, Dollman

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