Crashball Rugby's editor Alistair Stokes believes Pumas wing Santiago Cordero can be the spark that kick-starts Exeter's winning run back to life.
Over the last few rounds of Premiership and Champions Cup action, Exeter have suffered a slump in performance, going from a force to be reckoned with to a side that seems to have lost it's rhythm. I believe that the new arrival at Sandy Park of Argentinian international wing, Santiago Cordero, is exactly the spark the Chiefs need to rediscover their mojo.
The Chiefs suffered back-to-back losses against a fierce Leinster side, finding the smallest of margins to make the difference between Champions Cup play-offs qualification and a pool stage exit. While Exeter's performance cannot be faulted and they should be commended for the relentlessly competitive manner in which they rumbled the gates in Dublin, they put a huge amount of physical and emotional currency into both fixtures and it looks to me like it is beginning to tell.
The following week the reigning Premiership champions travelled to Kingston Park to face a mid-table Newcastle Falcons side. The Chiefs should have found this fixture a tough yet reasonable win, considering their quality and recent history. Seemingly suffering a hangover from their previous two weeks against the Irish, Rob Baxter's side were to all appearances overwhelmed by the quality of the Falcons, trailing at half-time by 25 points to three. Exeter looked to have been caught by surprise by the quality of their opposition and were toppled 28-20 away from home.
To their credit, the Chiefs came back a week later and put in one of the most complete performances of their career in the top flight of rugby, clinically and comfortably seeing off Montpellier at home 41-10. However, since then they have struggled to reach the highs of recent months losing away to Glasgow Warriors in Europe and more recently at home to Worcester Warriors in an uncharacteristic 5-6 loss at Sandy Park.
The Chiefs need something to kick start their team back into a champions mentality, lest they allow their early season lead fade away against mid to bottom table sides. Short-term signing from the Southern Hemisphere, Santiago Cordero, is the man for the job. In their low-scoring loss to Worcester last weekend, the Argentinian was a real live wire, adding some serious attacking impetus in the tight and out wide. The tenacious Pumas' tornado of a wing will lead the way for his new comrades to follow.
Exeter face one of their biggest challenges in the Premiership for the rest of the season, a dangerous Wasps side that proved their mettle last week in an impressive 22-44 victory over Harlequins with only 14 men for the vast majority of the match. The Chiefs' tired bodies will have been well-rested during the two Anglo-Welsh Cup rounds nearly a fortnight ago and must now ensure their mental state is in optimum condition. Gareth Steenson must look to create space for Cordero and let the Argentine light up the game and help lift the spirits of his teammates around him. When the Chiefs are in the mood, even the best in Europe struggle to stand toe-to-toe with them, just ask Leinster about their visit from the Devon outfit.
Immediately after their record title victory at Twickenham last season, Chiefs' mindsets were set on the final frontier, a maiden season in the Champions Cup. Their pool stage exit after such effort and focus into the European campaign has left a hole in the Chiefs' seasons hopes, with one of their biggest targets cut far shorter than it should have been. While they are missing their international players, they must make up the drop in player quality with a lift in confidence and enjoyment, putting their European disappointment on the back burner until next year's campaign where they can use the losses as fuel for a second charge at the Northern Hemisphere's biggest club competition.
Exeter have the men to claim a convincing victory over Wasps this weekend, they need only re-realise their potential and pedigree by following Santiago out of the trenches and over the top, taking the fight to the side they defeated to claim domestic glory at the home of English rugby last May.
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