Preview: Gloucester v Exeter

Date published: April 17 2015

The Challenge Cup's second semi-final is an all-English affair as Gloucester host Exeter Chiefs in what promises to be an exciting clash at Kingsholm on Saturday.

These clubs have already met three times this season, and they've all been close run affairs. The combined margin of victory across those three matches is five points.

It's Gloucester's first European semi-final since defeating Worcester Warriors on their way to lifting the Challenge Cup trophy back in 2006, and continuity is the name of the game for the Cherry and Whites.

There is a slight reshuffle in the back-line. Charlie Sharples will start at full-back, Jonny May moves across to the right wing and Henry Purdy will wear the number eleven shirt.

The pack is very much the same as the one that went so well at the Stoop last weekend, with the exception of the return of Kvesic who missed out against Harlequins and Mariano Galarza coming in for Tom Palmer. It will be the Argentinian international's first start for the club.

The Chiefs are one of the form teams in England this season, but Gloucester's director of rugby David Humphreys told the local media that his team has trained well this week and are looking forward to what will be an incredibly competitive game.

"We've had a good week," he said.

"Obviously disappointed with the result up at Harlequins, but we knew coming into the semi-final that we'd get a reaction from the players.

"You only have to be here at Hartpury this week to appreciate that everyone understands what this weekend means to the club, what it means to the players who have put a huge amount of work into this season so far, without probably the rewards we'd all hoped for.

"We're all very excited about the game this weekend.

"We all want to be involved in big games at Kingsholm. We've talked about this season and how a number of our good performances have been at home and against the top teams in England.

"Exeter fall into that bracket. We know that them coming here is a huge challenge for us, but we've done a huge amount of work throughout the course of the European competition to clinch a home quarter-final and now semi-final.

"History has shown that home advantage is a big part of success in Europe."

Meanwhile, Exeter Chiefs boss Rob Baxter has made one change to his starting XV from that which defeated Northampton Saints in the Premiership last weekend.

A bang to the head for Ben White means he sits out the action, so Kai Horstmann is promoted from the bench and England international Tom Johnson fills the vacant void.

Having already advanced to one major final this term, the Devon club are now targeting a second as they look to advance to a first-ever European Challenge Cup Final on Friday, May 1.

Premiership rivals Gloucester, will provide stiff opposition, however.

With both clubs advancing to this stage with impressive European records – and the two sides locked at one win apiece against each other this season in the league – there really is little to choose between the rivals clubs as they look to target a place against either Edinburgh or the Dragons in the main event.

However, Baxter’s side will head into the contest knowing that not only have they prospered on Gloucester soil this season, but they come into the game on the back of a hugely impressive win over Northampton Saints last time out.

That 21-10 victory not only lifted the Chiefs back into the Premiership play-off places, but also ensured they became the first side this season to overcome the reigning champions both home and away.

Whilst delighted with that notable scalp, Baxter was quickly setting the tone for Saturday’s tussle, a game which he says will be just as tough – if not tougher – for his battle-hardened troops.

“We always say at the start of the year that the key for us is to keep every competition alive for as long as possible,” said the Exeter head coach.

“We have a big focus on that at the start of every season and that has already happened in the LV= Cup which wasn’t dead for us until the very last kick of the game.

“Obviously now getting to the semi-final of this competition and being in the top four of the Premiership, it’s making it a very exciting season for us, and for me I think that’s the real key, we want to be excited about things and not fret too much.

“If we look back at what was the worst part of the season for us, the period when we lost four games on the trot in the Premiership, we got a bit fretful about where we were in the league.

"We were going very well at the time, but then we let ourselves down and didn’t play like a team who were excited about playing Premiership games of rugby. Since then we have addressed that and now we’re playing some really top quality rugby.”

The teams:

Gloucester: 15 Charlie Sharples; 14 Jonny May, 13 Bill Meakes, 12 Billy Twelvetrees (c), 11 Henry Purdy; 10 James Hook, 9 Greig Laidlaw, 8 Gareth Evans, 7 Matt Kvesic, 6 Sione Kalafamoni, 5 Mariano Galarza, 4 Tom Savage, 3 John Afoa, 2 Richard Hibbard, 1 Nick Wood.
Replacements: 16 Darren Dawiduik, 17 Dan Murphy, 18 Sila Puafisi, 19 Elliot Stooke, 20 Ross Moriarty, 21 Dan Robson, 22 Billy Burns, 23 Brendan Macken

Exeter Chiefs: 15 Phil Dollman; 14 Ian Whitten, 13 Jack Nowell, 12 Sam Hill, 11 Matt Jess; 10 Henry Slade, 9 Will Chudley, 8 Tom Waldrom, 7 Kai Horstmann, 6 Dave Ewers, 5 Mitch Lees, 4 Dean Mumm (c), 3 Tom Francis, 2 Jack Yeandle, 1 Ben Moon.
Replacements: 16 Elvis Taione, 17 Carl Rimmer, 18 Alex Brown, 19 Sam Skinner, 20 Tom Johnson, 21 Dave Lewis, 22 Gareth Steenson, 23 Tom James

Date: Saturday, April 18
Venue: Kingsholm
Kick-off: 19:45 BST (18:45 GMT)
Referee: John Lacey (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Jerome Garces (France), Pascal Gauzere (France)
TMO: Jim Yuille (Scotland)