Exeter Chiefs see their trip to Vodacom Bulls in the Heineken Champions Cup next Saturday as a chance to consolidate their status as one of the top-ranked sides in the pool stage, according to head coach Ali Hepher.

The 2020 champions are currently second in Pool A after bonus-point wins over Castres Olympique (27-12) and Vodacom Bulls (44-14), and are acutely aware that home advantage in the knockout stage is on offer to the highest-ranked clubs.

“It’s hugely exciting,” Hepher commented. “It’s a different competition, a different climate, a different country, but it’s something to really enjoy.

“For us, though, it’s a massive opportunity at the end of next week to push our claims for top seedings later in the tournament. It’s an opportunity for us to really go after things.

“It will be tough, we know that, but it’s a chance to test ourselves against the best. It will be good to put ourselves up against one of the best and see where we are at.”

One blow for Exeter ahead of the Round 3 clash is that hooker Luke Cowan-Dickie, who scored a hat-trick of tries in the reverse fixture against Vodacom Bulls, was forced off with an injury in the 35-12 win over Northampton Saints in the Gallagher Premiership last Saturday.

“It’s too early to say what has happened,” said Hepher. “Any time you see Luke leaving the field, you worry, because he’s a tough player.

“Right now, he’s sore and we will just have to wait and see what the scans say. It didn’t look great, but we will know more once he’s been properly checked out.”