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Exeter Chiefs keen to avoid a slip-up at London Welsh

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: September 12, 2012

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Exeter Chiefs hooker Chris Whitehead views next Sunday's match against Aviva Premiership newcomers London Welsh at the Kassam Stadium as an awkward test for the Devon outfit.

The 26-year-old spent a season on loan at Welsh from London Wasps during Exeter's Championship promotion campaign in 2009-10.

He was part of a Welsh team that beat Exeter in the play-offs that term, but now he will be hoping to help his side make it three straight losses for the Exiles since their move into the top flight.

"It is another massive, tough fixture for us against the Premiership's new guys," said Derby-born Whitehead. "They are the banana skin for everyone this season, and they will see our visit as a game they can take something away from.

"I presume we will be going into that game as massive favourites, and it is all about how we deal with that pressure, but if we produce a good, solid performance, I am sure we will be fine."

Exeter followed up their opening-day bonus-point win at home to Sale by gaining a losing bonus point in their 24-21 defeat at Northampton Saints last Sunday, but the Chiefs wanted more from the contest.

"We were at Franklin's Gardens two years ago in our first season in the Premiership, and it felt like we had almost won the World Cup, coming away with a losing bonus point at Northampton that day, but it was very much a different feeling on Sunday," explained Whitehead.

"I think we were there or thereabouts in areas of the game, but great teams like Northampton are always up there near the top of the table because they will punish your mistakes, and they did that on Sunday."

One area where Northampton proved very effective was with their driving maul, and Whitehead added: "People have started to work out what we do.

"We unfortunately have not got the luxury any more of being the underdogs in every game, and people certainly know an awful lot about us as players and our style of play, and people are obviously working us out."

Exeter trailed 12-0 after 27 minutes and a long afternoon looked on the cards, but they came storming back to lead 13-12 at the interval.

"We are not a team who start panicking or worrying too much when we go a few points down," said Whitehead.

"There are different targets to go for throughout a game, with bonus points on offer, and there was still an awful lot of time to play on the clock, and we have a lot of belief in the team."

That was once again demonstrated against the Saints, with the Chiefs snatching a losing bonus point with a try by Matt Jess in the 79th minute, after great work by big Fijian replacement Sireli Naqelevuki.

"It is great to have the calibre of someone like Sireli to come off the bench and really make an impact," said Whitehead, who was unfortunate to miss out on selection for England's tour of South Africa during the summer after a very impressive 2011-12 season.

"We have got a fantastic squad at the club and the boys are really vying for places.

"It is a tough environment to be in, but that is where you want to be as a rugby player, certainly at a club like Exeter, with a hard-working bunch of lads but with an awful lot of talent.

"We are scoring some great tries and hopefully people will start to see that."

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