Rob Baxter insists Exeter are ready to pounce if Leinster show any signs of rust in Saturday’s Heineken Champions Cup quarter-final at Sandy Park.
The eagerly-awaited tie matches Baxter’s defending champions against a team chasing a record fifth European crown and who are appearing in the knockout phase for the 16th time.
Leinster’s round of 16 game against Toulon was cancelled because of a case of coronavirus at the French giants, while Exeter were able to blow away the cobwebs with a tricky fixture against Lyon.
“Leinster will try to look at all the positives of their game being cancelled – the break will be good for them and they’ll be fresh, they’ll have been able to get over any bumps and bruises and niggling injuries from the week before,” director of rugby Baxter said.
“On the flip side, we’re looking at it as a positive for us because if you look at our first 15 minutes against Lyon, we looked a little bit like a team that hadn’t played together.
“We’ve hopefully got over that to give us a chance of having a better performance against Leinster. We’ll feel better for having had a game. The proof will be in the pudding on Saturday.”
Exeter initially struggled against Lyon as their internationals were bedded in following the completion of the Six Nations, but ultimately emerged emphatic 47-25 winners.
Baxter has made two changes with props Ben Moon and Tomas Francis displacing Alec Hepburn and Harry Williams from the starting XV. Joe Simmonds and Sam Simmonds are present despite not completing the game against Lyon.
Leinster have made one change to the side picked against Toulon with Scott Fardy replacing Ryan Baird in the second row.
“We know Exeter are a brilliant team. They are not double winners by chance,” Leinster assistant coach Felipe Contepomi said.
“They’ve been developing into the team they are now after going through a rocky road for the last 10 years.
“They are an exceptional team and there is no bigger challenge then to play the champions on their own park.
“We embrace that challenge and know it will demand one hell of a performance from us, but this competition is about playing the best teams.”
Only two English clubs made it through to the quarter-finals, with Sale’s trip to La Rochelle completing Saturday’s fixtures.
Sharks boss Alex Sanderson has named an unchanged side after the Scarlets were overwhelmed 57-14 in the previous round, with England star Tom Curry picked at openside.
“We are well aware of the challenge we face, but I guess we have got that little bit more belief now in terms of what we can put out there ourselves,” Sanderson said.
“I think there is that understanding that if we get it right mentally and we have some clarity in the plan, then we can go out there and certainly be competitive and take it to La Rochelle.
“If people are going to put us in the light of underdogs then yes, we will use that. I will use whatever advantage, whatever edge you can have to get an emotional spark out of a group of lads who are emotionally-driven.”