Exeter game is massive after Saracens setback, says Bath Rugby coach Mike Ford
First-team coach Mike Ford believes the next two weeks have the potential to shape Bath Rugby's Aviva Premiership ambitions this season.
The pre-Christmas heavy home defeat to Saracens saw Bath reach the halfway mark of the campaign with five wins and six defeats in league matches this term.
With the established top four of Sarries, champions Harlequins, Leicester Tigers and Northampton Saints all looking unlikely to relinquish their places, Bath must now focus on reclaiming a spot in the top six.
Their next two opponents – Exeter Chiefs on Saturday (3pm) and London Wasps a week later – have similar domestic aspirations, meaning the festive season could define Bath's chances of a return to the Heineken Cup through their league finish.
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"We always said we'd see where we are with the Saracens game," said former England defence chief Ford, who refused to panic despite the gulf in class against one of the Premiership's front runners.
"We've got to learn from that game. We've got to get better, as it just shows where we are at the moment.
"In terms of the league table, we'd probably have to say it's fair enough. Although it's tight, I think the top four teams are the top four teams. They are pretty good and have been there two or three years now.
"Then there's a cluster of clubs with us, Gloucester, Exeter, Worcester and Wasps – those sorts of teams are all in the mix.
"So the next two games against Exeter and Wasps are crucial for us now because they are teams in and around us.
"We're halfway through but we are not slitting our throats yet."
Bath remain the only team to hold an unbeaten league record over Exeter since their promotion to the Premiership in 2010.
The Chiefs came close to breaking that hoodoo at The Rec in late October, with a resolute defensive effort in the second half ensuring the hosts escaped with a 23-15 victory.
Heineken Cup favourites Clermont Auvergne are the only team to return victorious from Sandy Park this season, so Ford is expecting another tough afternoon.
"We'll regroup over Christmas as it's a massive game this weekend now," said Ford.
"I think Exeter are the best attacking team in the competition. It'll be a tough game – they are a massive side and they haven't lost there in the league this year."