Exeter take an unbeaten seven-game run into today's West Country derby at Gloucester knowing that a repeat of last season's dramatic victory could take them into the Premiership title play-off places. The Chiefs are sixth in the table, one place below Gloucester, but only five points behind leaders Harlequins.
"We've faced some big challenges already this season and thrived on them, but going to Kingsholm at Christmas time in a local derby is what it's all about, really," said the Exeter coach, Rob Baxter (right), yesterday.
Saracens rest their England international backs Alex Goode and Brad Barritt for today's trip to Bath, who welcome back hooker Lee Mears from suspension.
The leaders Harlequins travel to third-placed Northampton, just a week after Saints defeated Heineken Cup contenders Ulster 10-9. "We enjoyed that result, but all the chat in the dressing room was about taking the momentum into the Harlequins game," said Saints' rugby director, Jim Mallinder. "This has been reflected in the attitude in training, which has been intense and positive. Quins will pose plenty of challenges."
London Irish, just six points off the bottom, face a tough task at home to Leicester, who will be buoyed by a fit-again Toby Flood, while the full-back Geordan Murphy also returns from injury for his 200th Premiership game.
"We have got about six or seven home games to go and that is where we need to start delivering if we are to move up the table," said Irish's former Leicester fly-half Ian Humphreys. "We have underachieved if you look at our squad. On paper, our strongest team is pretty strong and there have been glimpses of what we can do in games. Now we have to start doing it for 80 minutes and not just here and there."
In tomorrow's Premiership action bottom club Sale go to Wasps, having lost nine out of 10 league games this season. The former England fly-half Danny Cipriani is not in Sale's squad.