Bristol boss Pat Lam says he is relishing the prospect of Saturday’s “massive challenge” against Gallagher Premiership champions Exeter.
Lam’s team head to Sandy Park level on points with Exeter as early Premiership pace-setters.
Both clubs have collected 20 points from their first five games, losing just once, to set up a mouth-watering west country derby.
While Bristol landed the European Challenge Cup last season, Exeter completed a Champions Cup and Premiership double, with all three trophies now homed just 80 miles apart along the M5.
“I have a lot of respect for Exeter and what Rob (Exeter rugby director Rob Baxter) has done,” Lam said.
“It was a wonderful achievement to do the double of the Champions Cup and Premiership.
“I love playing against these guys. They are tough encounters.
Exeter suffered their first defeat of the league campaign last weekend, losing 34-5 with a much-changed team against Wasps.
But Lam added: “I am expecting the reinforcements to be back – their strongest team.
“It is a massive challenge for us and one we are excited by. I love playing the games when there is a lot riding on them.
“If we want to get a taste of playing Exeter in a Champions Cup final or a Premiership final, we are going to get a taste of it this week.
“Winning the Challenge Cup, which was the first trophy for so many players here, gives a real hunger for more.
“The beauty of the Premiership is that you are able to build a culture and take a group and bring it through.
“You build relationships and Rob has done that with his group.
“Once you do that, you know which buttons to push and you see the bigger picture of where you want to be. They have absolute clarity of where they want to be and they have put the work in.
“If you look at the characteristics of the Exeter team, they certainly reflect Rob. They are honest, they are hard-working.
“Of course, there are all the flash things that people can do and individual talent, but ultimately it is about hard work and working for each other and that’s what you try to create.”