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Baxter keeps focus on league progress

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: June 16, 2012

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It may be the likes of Leinster, Clermont Auvergne and Scarlets that have set the pulses of Exeter Chiefs fans racing, but, for head coach Rob Baxter, it is another season of Aviva Premiership rugby that is the focus of his attention.

After a barnstorming season in which the Devonians finished fifth in the Premiership table, the Chiefs were rewarded with a lucrative Heineken Cup draw in which they were drawn against three of Europe's most prestigious clubs.

But, while such fixtures are sure to capture the imagination of the Westcountry public in what will be Exeter's first foray into the competition, Baxter is more worried about starting the Premiership season well and making sure his side continue to defy the odds and once again establish themselves as a top-flight club.

"We have to be a little bit careful because we are still a relatively new Premiership side. The important thing first and foremost is to hit the ground running in the Premiership and make sure we show some good form in that competition. We will worry about the Heineken Cup as and when it comes along," he said.

"For us as a team, a club and for the players, it's about showing form in the Premiership because that will give you an opportunity in the Heineken and give the players an opportunity to play in it. First and foremost, we have some very important fixtures to get through in the Premiership and we will deal with the Heineken Cup when it comes along.

"I know it sounds strange, but the Heineken Cup is the least of my worries. I kind of think we will be good in those games. I said that about the Amlin [Challenge Cup], that we'd be good in those tough games, and we were.

"For me, concentrate on the bread and butter and the Heineken Cup will look after itself.

"If our first game is away at Leinster, I don't think there will be too many problems with motivation."

The coming campaign will be Exeter's third in the Premiership, but if Baxter has anything to do with it, then there is no chance of the novelty value wearing off. He knows better than most the hard work undertaken on and off the pitch to get the Chiefs to where they are and he is not about to let the high standards slip.

"I think what we have to guard against as a group now that we have played a couple of seasons of Premiership rugby is that we still relish and enjoy the challenge of every Premiership game," he said. "It is still an absolutely fantastic challenge to go to Leicester and play at Welford Road, or take on Northampton.

"It is great for us to play in front of sell-out crowds here at Sandy Park. It is fantastic and you have to cherish it, not take it for granted.

"As long as we keep doing that, then I think we will be fine because one of our strengths is that we want to be in the Premiership and we really deserve to be here.

"Part of my job is to maintain that culture that you are lucky to be playing in the Premiership, you have to cherish it and work hard to stay there because the minute you take it for granted is the minute it will be taken away from you."

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