Preview: Exeter v Harlequins

Date published: December 30 2011

Aviva Premiership leaders Harlequins travel to Exeter on Saturday aiming to end 2011 on a high note at Sandy Park.

Aviva Premiership leaders Harlequins travel to Exeter on Saturday aiming to end 2011 on a high note at Sandy Park.

The Chiefs arguably face one of their toughest assignments of the past 12 months when they prepare to welcome Conor O'Shea's men into town.

On Tuesday, Harlequins came unstuck for the first time in the Premiership this season when they went down 19-11 to defending champions Saracens in front of a capacity 82,000 crowd at Twickenham Stadium. And that loss came just hours after the Chiefs were themselves suffering their first loss in five games as they crashed 29-22 at London Irish.

The short turnaround for both clubs has meant not a huge amount of recovery time for either side in preparation.

Exeter head coach Rob Baxter has decided to make a handful of changes to his line-up. In the pack, a new-look front-row is made up of Brett Sturgess, Neil Clark and former Quins' player John Andress, whilst Aly Muldowney is added in the second-row. Behind, the sole change comes at centre where Jason Shoemark is recalled to duty in the centre.

“In the end we didn't have to make too many changes,” added the Exeter coach.

“At the moment we have a fair amount of strength in depth within the squad and Tuesday wasn't the most physical game of Premiership rugby we've ever played. There was a fair amount of movement and kicking and it wasn't a real, brutal forwards battle. It's meant we have had the opportunity to rotate a few of the guys, but overall we're pleased with how the boys have come through Tuesday.”

Meanwhile, with a four-day turnaround, the Quins team shows a number of changes from that which started Big Game 4.

Mike Brown and Ugo Monye continue in the back three, with Tom Williams coming in for Seb Stegmann on the wing.

Jordan Turner Hall continues his return from injury alongside Matt Hopper, and Rory Clegg takes over from Nick Evans at 10, with Danny Care continuing at nine. Evans picked up a minor injury, which will see him miss the next couple of Aviva Premiership games.

Tim Fairbrother and Joe Gray start in the front row alongside Joe Marler, whilst Tomas Vallejos and George Robson continue in the second row.

Captain Chris Robshaw reverts to number six, to allow Luke Wallace to start at seven while Tom Guest returns from injury to start at number eight. Nick Easter and Mo Fa'asavalu both picked up minor knocks against Saracens but will be fit in time to face Northampton next week.

The bench sees Chris Brooker, Mark Lambert and James Johnston as front row cover. Pete Browne and Chris York will cover the back 5 of the scrum.

Form: Exeter Chiefs five game winning run came to an end at London Irish on Tuesday, whilst the Chiefs have won their last three matches at Sandy Park against Prato, Worcester and Newport Gwent Dragons. Harlequins 100% winning start to the Aviva Premiership Rugby season ended at the hands of Saracens at Twickenham on the 27th. Quins have won their last ten away games in all competitions since their 15-19 reversal at Bath on 16 April. The two teams have met on five previous occasions in all competitions with the home side victorious in each instance.

Rugby Union betting odds

The teams:

Exeter: 15 Luke Arscott, 14 Gonzalo Camacho, 13 Nic Sestaret, 12 Jason Shoemark, 11 Matt Jess, 10 Ignacio Mieres, 9 Haydn Thomas, 8 James Phillips, 7 James Scaysbrook, 6 Richard Baxter, 5 Aly Muldowney, 4 Tom Hayes (c), 3 John Andress, 2 Neil Clark, 1 Brett Sturgess.
Replacements: 16 Simon Alcott, 17 Hoani Tui, 18 Craig Mitchell, 19 Chris Bentley, 20 Tom Johnson, 21 Kevin Barrett, 22 Gareth Steenson, 23 Josh Tatupu.

Harlequins: 15 Mike brown, 14 Tom Williams, 13 Matt Hopper, 12 Jordan Turner Hall, 11 Ugo Monye, 10 Rory Clegg, 9 Danny Care, 8 Tom Guest, 7 Luke Wallace, 6 Chris Robshaw (c) 5 George Robson, 4 Tomas Vallejos, 3 Tim Fairbrother, 2 Joe Gray, 1 Joe Marler.
Replacements: 16 Chris Brooker, 17 Mark Lambert, 18 James Johnston , 19 Pete Browne, 20 Chris York, 21 Richard Bolt, 22 Ben Urdapilleta, 23 Sam Smith.

Date: Saturday, December 31
Venue: Sandy Park, 3.45pm
Kick-off: 15.45 GMT
Referee: JP Doyle