Exeter look to continue winning ways
Despite some turbulent times for Exeter over recent months the Chiefs head into this weekend's Powergen National Trophy semi-finals against Bedford riding high after an impressive National League One scalp over runaway league leaders Harlequins on Saturday.
The Devon outfit saw the exit of former head coach Ian Bremner earlier this year after a disappointing string of defeats. In Bremner's place came caretaker coaches Rob Baxter, Alistair Murdoch and Bob Staddon and the trio have certainly done Exeter proud, topped off last weekend with a 13-8 win over the mighty Quins at the County Ground - a result that wasn't expected with their visitors having notched up 19 league victories this season and inflicting a 70-5 massacre on Exeter at the Stoop only four months ago.
Baxter and Co. have, however, clearly worked their magic to vitalise the lagging Chiefs with wins over Rotherham, the Cornish Pirates and most recently Harlequins since their reign began.
Baxter, a man who knows Exeter inside out having been a player for some 16 years and even an Exeter ball-boy when he was six, said: "This season has been tough for everyone concerned, but the coaching transition has been relatively smooth. For Alistair and me it has been exciting times and I am pleased to say the results have turned themselves around. We are slowing moving things forward and our job now is to keep that momentum going and become more consistent across the board. If we do that we will keep getting good results.
"Some people say the league is dead for us and in terms of getting promoted yes it is but there is also still a lot more to play for. As far as I'm concerned our squad are representing our supporters, who are a passionate bunch, so you have always got to go out there and do your best. Coupled with the fact we are still very much in the hunt in the Powergen National Trophy our season is far from dead."
Exeter have indeed enjoyed a romantic association with the cup. Even though they have never won the formerly named Powergen Shield, they have twice been to Twickenham and have also enjoyed some impressive scalps along the way.
Baxter added: "The Trophy is our chance to win something and it is also a competition we have a great deal of respect for. We have traditionally done quite well in the major cup competitions, having got to a couple of finals although we have never managed to jump that final hurdle.
"The semi-finals is, however, going to be another tough game for us. Bedford are a very good side and they also the reigning Powergen Shield holders. They haven't lost a lot of games and traditionally our matches against Bedford are always absolute crackers. They are always close and I expect that to be the same this weekend, but hopefully we will come out on top. Beating Bedford is going to be a big challenge but playing Harlequins was great preparations and there is also the tantalizing carrot of playing at Twickenham dangling in front of us. That is all the motivation we need."
POWERGEN NATIONAL TROPHY SEMI FINALS
Exeter Chiefs v Bedford Blues
Chiefs' Powergen Path to the Semi-Finals
Rd 5: Bradford & Bingley (A) Won 57-3 (M.Fatialofa, Kingdom, Barrett, Jenkins, Liddington, Baxter, Luff, Catling, Gabey tries; Yapp 6 conv)
Rd 6: Redruth (A) Won 57-0 (Staniforth, Ward, Kingdom, Blythe, Willis, Miller, Baxter tries; Yapp try, 7 conv, dg)
QF: Earth Titans (H) Won 23-8 (A. Fatialofa 3 tries; Yapp conv, 2 pens)
Blues' Powergen Path to the Semi-Finals
Rd 5: Blackheath (H) Won 61-0 (Roberts, Luke, Hepher, Malone, Price, Strauss, Hallett tries; Harris 2 tries, 8 conv)
Rd 6: Esher (H) Won 57-17 (Staten, Malone, Tonga'uiha, Strauss, Paramore, Kettle tries; Harris 3 tries, 6 conv)
QF: Otley (A) Won 14-13 (Strauss try; Harris 3 pens)
Exeter Chiefs became the first team to defeat Harlequins this season with a 13-8 victory at the County Ground last Saturday. The Chiefs have won their last four home games in all competitions since losing 0-7 at home to Plymouth Albion on New Year's Eve.
Bedford Blues, the reigning Powergen Challenge Shield holders, lost 21-26 at home to Nottingham in National One on Saturday, but away from home the Blues have won six of their last seven matches in all competitions.
Things could not be more even between the two teams because they have met on 18 previous occasions in league and cup with each side claiming nine wins apiece. Bedford have lost on their last five visits to the County Ground with their last win at the famous old venue being 32-17 in Premiership Two on 13 September 1997.
Previous Cup Meeting
27 Nov 04 (5th round): Bedford 23, Exeter 18 (Goldington Road)
Nottingham v NEC Harlequins
Notts' Powergen Path to the Semi-Finals
Rd 5: Lydney (H) Won 55-3 (Wyles 3, Molenaar 2, Warnock 2, Adey, Corcoran tries; Stenhouse 5 conv)
Rd 6: Blaydon (H) Won 33-17 (Thompson, Corcoran, Richardson tries; Warnock try, conv, pen; Stenhouse conv, 2 pen)
QF: London Welsh (H) Won 34-3 (Jackson 2, Richardson 2 tries; Stenhouse 4 conv, 2 pens)
Quins' Powergen Path to the Semi-Finals
Rd 5: Sedgley Park (A) Won 61-13 (Keogh 3, Harder 2, Burke 2, Greenwood tries; Penalty try; Mehrtens 6 conv, Williams 2 conv)
Rd 6: Bridgwater & Albion (A) Won 48-0 (Monye 2, Williams, Masson, Vass, Sherriff, Easter, Burke tries; Mehrtens 2 conv, Jarvis 2 conv)
QF: Plymouth Albion (H) Won 37-24 (Jones 2, Harder, Fuga tries; Jarvis try, 3 conv, pen, drop)
Nottingham have won their last two matches in National One against Cornish Pirates and Bedford. Notts have won their last seven matches in all competitions at Ireland Avenue since losing there to Coventry on 12 November. Notts are attempting to reach the first Twickenham final in their history.
Harlequins were beaten at Exeter on Saturday - their first reversal for 23 matches since a 22-23 loss to Sale in the Premiership at the Stoop on 30 April consigned them to relegation. Quins have not reached a Twickenham final since losing the 2000/01 Tetley's Bitter Cup final to Newcastle.
The two sides have met on nine previous occasions in league and cup with Nottingham winning just twice: 12-0 in the league at Ireland Avenue in April 1989 and 27-22 also in the league at the Stoop the following March.
Previous Cup Meetings
23 Feb 80 (2nd round): Nottingham 6, Harlequins 23 (Ireland Avenue)
25 Deb 89 (quarter-final): Harlequins 15, Nottingham 9 (Stoop)
6 Apr 91 (semi-final): Harlequins 22, Nottingham 18 (Stoop)