Fearless Exeter ready to stare down champions

Exeter boss Rob Baxter wants his players to enjoy the experience when they make a high-profile Heineken Cup debut today against European rugby’s current standard-bearers.

Baxter insists the Chiefs will “go for it” against reigning European champions Leinster in their Dublin backyard.

Exeter have already shown their quality this season in beating reigning Aviva Premiership champions Harlequins, while they ran current leaders Northampton close and accounted for Saracens.

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“We are slightly above where we targeted in the Premiership given the fixtures we have had,” said Baxter.

“That is pretty good since we’ve played all of the top four teams from last season. We are working hard to establish ourselves in the Premiership, and we’ve tended to do well in big, difficult circumstances.

“Now I’ve got to hope again that this weekend brings the best out of us. We will enjoy the experience and we will come out of it a better team.

“We’ll approach Leinster in a similar manner to the Harlequins game. There is no point saying we will go there, kick the ball behind them and see if we can defend for 80 minutes.

“We will only get better as a side if we enjoy the 80 minutes - that is the only way to improve.

“I don’t think it’s giving our game-plan away to say we will go for it, because that is what we intend to do.”

Welsh challengers the Scarlets are first up for Leinster’s principal Pool Five rivals Clermont Auvergne, and head coach Simon Easterby – the Harrogate-born former Leeds player – knows a huge task awaits his team at Stade Marcel Michelin.

“Clermont have such depth they have a couple of teams they can put out on the field that are capable of winning any game,” Easterby said.

“We can’t hide from the quality of their home record, but we will not just sit back and defend. We have to go there positively with a confident attitude.”

Quins open their Pool Three programme against twice Heineken finalists Biarritz at the Twickenham Stoop.

Connacht and Italian newcomers Zebre are also in the group.

“We want to push through to that quarter-final stage,” said Quins skipper Chris Robshaw.

England fly-half Owen Farrell will be on the bench when Saracens travel to Edinburgh. Charlie Hodgson retains the No 10 shirt.

London Welsh begin their Amlin Challenge up campaign against Paris glamour club Stade Francais.