1. ITV Report

Chiefs aiming to topple European Champions on way to final

The Chiefs have lost just twice in the league at Sandy Park this season Photo: Paul Harding/PA Wire/PA Images

Exeter Chiefs welcome Saracens to Sandy Park tomorrow afternoon (Saturday) in the Premiership playoff semi-final. The match is repeat of last year's Twickenham final in which Saracens claimed victory. The Chiefs will hope come full time tomorrow, it is them, rather than the visitors running out at Twickenham next Saturday.

It will be no easy task against the newly crowned European Champions, who retained the trophy for a second season. Their desire for further success is obvious as they look to reach a third consecutive Premiership final.

But Exeter are in good shape ahead of the 14:30 kick off. After a sluggish start to the season the Chiefs are unbeaten in the league since the end of October and have lost just twice at Sandy Park. After the success of reaching last year's final, the players, coaching staff and fans will hope they can go one better this year.

Tomorrow's match may be a repeat of last year's final at Twickenham, but there is one noticeable difference among the Chiefs players. They are no longer here to enjoy the ride.

Yes the players were disappointed with a runners up medal after losing 20-28 to Saracens, but as their Head Coach Rob Baxter admitted at this week's press conference there are higher expectations this season.

I have a genuine feeling the players would be disappointed not to win the Premiership this year, I can't honestly say that was the case last year. Last year we were on an adventure.

– Rob Baxter, Head Coach, Exeter Chiefs

Saracens will arrive at Sandy Park as the best team in Europe. The squad is packed full of internationals and will send six players to New Zealand this summer to tour with the British and Irish Lions. Exeter's success has been built on consistency, a blend of youth and experience including some incredibly loal servants and an ability to score against any opposition (they secured a record-breaking eight bonus-point wins in a row this season). However, despite their excellent form, Exeter's players know they will have to reach new heights to succeed. None more so that Ian Whitten who will be making his 100th appearance for the Chiefs and played in last year's final.

Ian Whitten wil make his 100th appearance this weekend Credit: Paul Harding/PA Wire/PA Images

We know they're going to run hard, and they know they have boys like Farrell and Goode who can pick plays around that. It's going to be a very physical confrontation, but you know that going into it, it's just can you match it, can you better it.

– Ian Whitten, Exeter Chiefs

Of course, the Chiefs have their own player who will be heading to New Zealand at the end of the month. Jack Nowell is the first player at Exeter to be called up to the Lions (Geoff Parling toured in 2013 when playing for Leicester). He scored Exeter's second try in last year's final in a much improved second half and knows that home advantage could be key against a side like Saracens.

Nowell is the first Exeter player to be called up by the Lions Credit: David Davies/PA Wire/PA Images

It's nice to have a home semi-final and we've worked hard to get that. It's not so much about last year. We've played them twice since then, so it's another game, different atmosphere and it's awesome to be at Sandy Park.

– Jack Nowell, Exeter Chiefs

Those two games against Saracens did not go as well as many would have hoped. At home early in the season they were well beaten and in the away fixture, with Saracens reduced to 14 men for much of the match could only draw. But more recent results mean there is much cause for optimism this weekend. The Chiefs have lost just two matches all season at Sandy Park, while Saracens have won just two of their last 5 away from home. And with a full house expected the fans and players will be confident it will be them running out at Twickenham next Sartuday.