Exeter prop Brett Sturgess believes the Chiefs will face a real test when they kick-off their pre-season programme against Irish outfit Connacht this weekend.
After five weeks of intense training in Devon, Sturgess and his teammates are poised to head across the Irish Sea to tackle the talented Pro12 club in the first of three warm-up fixtures ahead of the new 2011/12 season.
For Sturgess, this Saturday's match has added significance. The 29-year-old prop spent a season with Connacht before signing for the Chiefs in 2007 - and he says facing his former club is a challenge he and his fellow Chiefs are clearly relishing.
As a regular for the Chiefs in the Aviva Premiership last season, Sturgess is well aware rival clubs will no longer see Exeter as the division's unknowns and says tests like that of this weekend will help ensure Rob Baxter's squad hit the new season fully primed.
"Obviously it's been hard work over the last five weeks, but now we've got our first game coming up and personally it will be nice for me to go back to an old club," said Sturgess. "I spent a year there and really enjoyed my time over in Ireland.
"Connacht have qualified for the Heineken Cup this season and I know that is something they have been striving for. It was talked about a lot when I was over there playing and it's something they have wanted for years. They have finally got it this year, so they'll definitely be excited by that.
"They will want to show what they can do in pre-season games as well as us. It will be a tough away game, but that is what we want. We want to be tested because our first game in the Aviva Premiership is Leicester away, so if we can use these fixtures against good sides like Connacht it will prepare us well for that first game."
He continued: "Looking at the video and knowing from my time over there, they like to play an expansive game. They have good exciting backs and the forwards are very talented. It should be a real good game to challenge ourselves – we're really looking forward to it.
But whatever the nature of the opposition, Sturgess thinks he and his teammates should be ready for the Connacht clash after a summer of strenuous pre-season training.
"It has been tough, it's right up there In terms of pre-seasons I've had to do. We have had to put the hard work in because we know what the demands of the Premiership are," he said. "We have to get that hard work in to get that level of fitness to take us through into the start of the season.
"Yes it's been tough, but I am sure we will see the gains from it."
Indeed, Sturgess reckons it is the club's strong focus on summer preparations which helped the club to secure an eighth-placed finish last term.
"It's the work we put in this time of year that really helps," said Sturgess. "Obviously it was our first season in the Premiership, but we know this season is going to be a lot tougher.
"For all of us it starts this weekend. Connacht will be the ideal test for the season ahead. There is lots of competition, throughout the squad – we have 30, 40 players who want to get a game over these next few weeks and who want to be involved at Leicester. It is going to be exciting to watch the players working as a team, but also fighting for a position in the starting line-up."
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