Exeter Chiefs' Rob Baxter licking lips at Saracens challenge

Rob Baxter has called on his Exeter Chiefs players to embrace the pressure of leading the league. Harry Trump/Getty Images

Exeter boss Rob Baxter wants his players to embrace being Aviva Premiership leaders as they prepare for a top-of-the-table clash against Saracens at Allianz Park.

The Chiefs will arrive in Hertfordshire on Saturday two points above second-placed Saracens with five regular season games left.

It could easily prove to be a dress rehearsal for May's Premiership final at Twickenham, and Baxter has no intention of hiding away from the standards Exeter are currently setting.

"I don't mind talking about it quite openly," he said. "We are top of the league, and it is a fantastic test to see if we clam up and stop doing what we do, or if we come closer together as a team and it brings the best out of us. It is a fantastic challenge.

"We have to enjoy that, and mentally that is going to be a big thing for us. That will be our focus -- not being edgy and nervous, but instead, enjoy being top and enjoying the fight to stay there.

"I don't want us to go there and be nervy or worried about losing top spot, I want us to go there and play in a way that merits us staying top, and that is what we have focused on this week.

"I don't think we have got enough points to be guaranteed in the top four, so we still have to be ambitious to go out and score points and win games. We can't start trying to protect something we don't have yet."

Saracens' England Grand Slam winners Owen Farrell, Mako Vunipola, Maro Itoje, George Kruis and Billy Vunipola all make immediate returns to domestic action this weekend, with a home win likely to see them and Exeter swapping positions.

Baxter added: "I think every time you play Saracens, you know you have to be very good and very clinical. You have to take your opportunities when they are there, and even then when you play well against them, you know it's still going to be a very close game.

"Quite often it can come down to one or two small things. This week, we've not talked about trying to stay in the game and sneak a narrow win, we've talked more about the qualities we need to show, along with the enthusiasm and the emotion we need to bring to the day."

At the opposite end of the Premiership, bottom club and relegation favourites London Irish face a crucial encounter against 10th-placed Worcester on Saturday.

Irish gave themselves hope in their fight against the drop by beating Gloucester last weekend, which closed the gap on nearest rivals Newcastle to five points, and they need a repeat performance at Sixways.

Gloucester, beaten by Worcester and Irish in successive games following a stirring victory over Wasps, host west country neighbours Bath on Saturday, and rugby director David Humphreys said: "We know the past two weeks haven't been as good as we would like them to be.

"There are things we know we can do better, and there are things we know we need to do better if we want to beat Bath this weekend. Every player who represents Gloucester understands the significance of this weekend's game."

England Grand Slam-winning prop Joe Marler, meanwhile, has been named in the Harlequins team for Sunday's Premiership clash against Northampton.

World Rugby announced on Wednesday that Marler will face an independent misconduct hearing for verbally abusing Wales prop Samson Lee. Marler had escaped punishment from the Six Nations for calling Lee "gypsy boy" during England's 25-21 victory at Twickenham on March 12, but World Rugby has deemed action should have been taken.

Marler apologised to Lee for the insult at half-time, and he was subsequently reprimanded by England head coach Eddie Jones, but the decision not to sanction him was met by an outcry.

If Marler is found guilty at the independent hearing he could face a suspension. Verbal abuse of a player based on religion, race, colour, national or ethnic origin, sexual orientation or otherwise carries an entry-point sanction of four weeks.

Elsewhere in the Premiership on Sunday, Newcastle host third-placed Wasps and play-off hopefuls Leicester visit Sale Sharks.