Baxter urges Exeter to stay on top of the action

Chiefs coach anxious to maintain momentum created by team's battling display at Perpignan

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The Independent Online

The Exeter coach, Rob Baxter, has urged his players not to waste the good work of an eye-catching display against the French heavyweights Perpignan when they resume European business today.

The Chiefs pushed Perpignan to the wire in their Amlin Challenge Cup match at Stade Aimé Giral last week, ultimately being undone 15-12 by the Wales international James Hook's precision goal-kicking. But a losing bonus point, backed up by the prospect of a five-point maximum against Italian visitors Cavalieri Prato today, would keep Exeter firmly in Pool Four contention.

"We got a very valuable point in Perpignan and that keeps the whole group wide open for us," Baxter said yesterday. "We showed a great attitude. There are not many teams that go to Perpignan and only lose by three points, plus in the end they were glad to get the ball off the pitch.

"The key for us is not to go to a place like Perpignan, play such a well-known side, put in a passionate and action-packed performance and then go back to Sandy Park and not perform. If we lack edge against Prato, we will end up losing the game. It's a massive game."

Worcester also face an Italian team this weekend on the back of a loss to French opponents, but unlike Exeter they already appear in trouble. A home defeat against the Pool One favourites Stade Français has left the Warriors with their work cut out, although they should at least get the ball rolling at Crociati Parma today.

"My first game in Europe with Leeds was against Parma – and we lost," said the Worcester forwards coach, Phil Davies. "That was about 10 years ago, and Italian rugby has changed quite a bit since then. We don't know a great deal about them, certainly not as much as we did against Stade Français, but we do know they are a side that likes to throw the ball about and play."

Newcastle, conquerors of Lyons last weekend, will fancy their chances against Italian hosts Petrarca today.

On the international front Alun Wyn Jones is out of Wales' 3 December Test with Australia in Cardiff because of a dislocated toe. The 26-year-old second-rower will undergo surgery on the toe he injured in training this week and Ospreys hope he will be able to return to action before Christmas.

The Wales coach, Warren Gatland, may have a lock crisis as Luke Charteris is a doubt owing to a wrist injury. Ryan Jones replaces Jones for Ospreys' European visit to Treviso today and the versatile 30-year-old is favourite to partner Bradley Davies in the second row for the Australia Test at the Millennium Stadium.

Charteris and Alun Wyn Jones were Gatland's first-choice second-row pairing when Wales finished fourth at the Rugby World Cup in New Zealand. The flankers Dan Lydiate and Justin Tipuric are also fitness doubts for the repeat of the World Cup third-place play-off.

The Bayonne scrum-half Mike Phillips has hinted he may miss the December international because non-Welsh clubs do not have to release their players for games outside the International Rugby Board window, unless individual contracts allow.

Perpignan's fly-half Hook will definitely miss the fixture because the game is not an IRB-sanctioned game while the Clermont Auvergne full-back Lee Byrne, Exeter prop Craig Mitchell and Sale Sharks pair Andy Powell and Dwayne Peel are also doubtful for the same reason.

Gatland's Wales squad meet on Monday to begin their Australian preparation but the Kiwi coach also has fitness worries over Leigh Halfpenny (ankle), Huw Bennett (neck) and Jonathan Thomas (thigh).