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Exeter’s misfiring Champions Cup campaign will fizzle out tomorrow night if they fail to beat Gloucester at Kingsholm.
Despite losing just once in the Premiership this season, Exeter have failed to win from their three Champions Cup starts.
Last Saturday’s home defeat against Gloucester left them adrift at the Pool Two basement.
And even bonus point victories over Gloucester, Castres and Munster — two of those games are away from home — between now and mid-January might not be enough to progress.
The likelihood is another pool stage exit for Exeter, although they are not giving up the ghost.
“As I’ve said before, the Heineken Champions Cup has lots of challenges,” Chiefs rugby director Rob Baxter said.
“If you want to win it, you have to try and learn something from every game you play in.
“We not only have to keep the competition alive, but we have to learn from the games and commit ourselves for the full 80 minutes.
“What we actually have to do is use the disappointment of last weekend to make us better as a team, because there are still three rounds left and 15 points to get.
“We got dented a couple of times last week and that knocked us out of our stride.
“Some of that is down to us not performing at the level of intensity we need to be at, and some of that is down to the good work Gloucester put in when they had possession.”
Baxter, though, will be without a number of players against Gloucester, with England centre Henry Slade and former Wales wing Alex Cuthbert among new additions to Exeter’s injury list.
Fly-half Joe Simmonds starts at full-back, while Jack Maunder wears the No 9 shirt, props Alec Hepburn and Tomas Francis return and there are back-row opportunities for Sean Lonsdale and Tom Lawday.
South Africa international lock Franco Mostert makes his first start for a Gloucester team that features returns for Jason Woodward, Charlie Sharples, Billy Twelvetrees and Ed Slater.
Gloucester are second in the group, three points behind Munster, and head coach Johan Ackermann said: “It will obviously be good for our campaign to back up last week with a win and give ourselves a possibility of progressing in the competition.
“But, having analysed the game, we know that it’s not going to be easy, there is still much for us to improve on and a lot of hard work we need to do.
“We also know that we will be up against a side who are very motivated to bounce back.”
Ulster will keep the pressure on Pool Four leaders Racing 92 if they can repeat last week’s win against the Scarlets by beating the Welsh side in Belfast.
Captain Rory Best will break Ulster’s European appearance record when he features for the 72nd time, while Wales centre Jonathan Davies lines up in Scarlets colours for the 150th occasion.
And in the European Challenge Cup tomorrow, Ospreys will extend their advantage at the top of Pool Two over Worcester if they defeat Stade Francais in Paris.
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