Gareth Steenson: Saracens will test Premiership play-off contenders Exeter’s standing as ‘a top side’

 

Gareth Steenson has warned that Premiership play-off contenders Exeter are ready to “push on and achieve more” after positioning themselves strongly for domestic and European success.

Only Saracens – the Chiefs’ Sandy Park visitors today – and Northampton have lost fewer league games this season than fourth-placed Exeter, who also top their Heineken Cup group.

It has been an impressive opening two months for Exeter and underlines their admirable progress under head coach Rob Baxter, having attained Premiership status only in 2010.

“We have earned the right to be there, and now that we are there we want to push on and achieve more,” fly-half Steenson said yesterday. “We should treat ourselves as a top side. We are doing well at the minute, but we’re well aware over the next couple of weeks that Bath and Saracens are top sides and then we’ve got Toulon as well. It is something to really look forward to.

“Saracens are the top team in the league, and it’s going to be a massive test of the lads. They are a physical team, and if you don’t bring that side of it as well, you’re in for a long afternoon. They have threats right across the park, and they have a lot of England internationals in there. They are very disciplined and have a great kicking game. Up front they are physical, but they have other guys with great footwork in the backs.

“We want these big teams coming down. We haven’t really performed that well against teams in the top four yet, and it’s something the guys are focusing on.”

Gloucester tackle Harlequins at The Stoop today, with neither side having yet made an impact. “It will be an intriguing fixture, normally quite entertaining. The game at Kingsholm last season was one of the best games I’ve seen for a long, long time,” said Gloucester’s rugby director, Nigel Davies. “But this is a different set of circumstances, with two teams desperate for the win, maybe not on top of their games as much as they would like to be. I think it will be quite a tense affair.

“They [Quins] are a quality side. They have been right up there for the past two or three years and probably won’t be too happy with their own form right now.”

If Saracens slip up at Exeter, Northampton, boosted by the returning England players Ben Foden, Lee Dickson and Courtney Lawes, can replace them at the Premiership summit by beating Newcastle at Franklin’s Gardens. The Falcons will arrive as outsiders, although they have acquitted themselves well since regaining Premiership status.

“Northampton is a tough proposition for the boys, but this is what we are back in the Premiership for, to play in the big games like these,” said Newcastle’s rugby director Dean Richards.

“We will have to be right on our game to get a result and, hopefully, we can build on our solid start to the season. Three wins and a losing bonus point isn’t a bad return in the Premiership, but there is much room for improvement.”

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