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Whitehead's injury opens the door for others to stake their claim for a regular starting place

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: December 12, 2012

Chris Whitehead

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Simon Alcott is looking forward to fighting it out for the Exeter Chiefs hooker’s jersey with Neil Clark in the absence of Chris Whitehead, who is facing up to three months out of action.

Whitehead underwent surgery yesterday to solve an on-going neck injury which is gradually getting worse.

Alcott made his first start for the Chiefs since the end of October last Saturday, when they won 22-16 at Scarlets in the Heineken Cup, before being replaced by Clark 14 minutes into the second half.

He will now be hoping to hang on to the number two shirt for a tough run of games coming up, starting with the rematch against Scarlets at Sandy Park on Saturday.

That is followed by Aviva Premiership matches against Gloucester, Bath and Northampton Saints, before a return to Heineken Cup action with a trip to Clermont Auvergne and a home game with European champions Leinster.

Young Exeter-born hooker Jack Yeandle, who is dual-registered with Plymouth Albion, will also be hoping for an opportunity to show what he can do at the top level, after his summer move to Sandy Park from Championship side Doncaster Knights.

“Chris is unfortunate because he has been playing really well,” said Alcott, who joined Exeter from Worthing in 2008.

“Clarky is a top player, and I am sure we will be going at it hammer and tongs to be the starting hooker.

“Saturday is a very big game against Scarlets, and they will come back at us maybe with a bit more of an attitude about them, and then we are back into the Premiership again, where there are no easy matches.

“It is a tough set of fixtures coming up, but hopefully we will come out of them better players for it.”

The 29-year-old Alcott was delighted to be part of another landmark moment for Exeter last weekend, when they captured their first win in the Heineken Cup.

They led 16-6 at the interval, and then had to stave off a late onslaught from the Scarlets to claim the spoils in west Wales.

“It is right up there with some of my best moments at the club,” said Alcott. “I hadn’t started for a few weeks and it is always nice to start. Everyone put in 100 per cent and we got what we wanted.

“These are the sorts of games we want to experience and it is great for the club and the fans.

“Getting a victory in the Heineken Cup was one of our ambitions for the season.

“We went out there and attacked the game, and perhaps didn’t do everything right, but with a bit of endeavour, we got the result in the end.”

He added: “It was a great start for us, and Steeno [Gareth Steenson] was kicking goals from everywhere and the boys put in a really good stint, but we were hanging on a bit at the end.

“We weren’t perhaps quite as clinical as we would have liked in the last 20 minutes.”

Having already won away to the Scarlets, Exeter will be favourites to do the double over the Welshmen at Sandy Park this weekend.

Alcott, though, believes the Chiefs will face a strong test of their unbeaten home record against UK-based opposition this season.

“Last Saturday was tough, but this weekend could be even harder because no one wants to lose successive games against the same team,” said Alcott.

“We will attack the game again, and there is plenty we need to work on after last Saturday’s performance.”

It was Exeter’s third successive away win in all competitions, but Alcott admitted the 27-23 Premiership victory at London Irish towards the end of last month – Exeter’s first triumph on the road in the league this season – had given everyone a huge boost.

“Getting that away win was a big thing for us,” he explained. “We always love playing at home, but you have got to chuck in a few good away wins if you want to be in the top half of the league or do well in the Heineken Cup.”

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