Leeds Carnegie head coach Neil Back has made just one change to his starting line-up for Sunday's Aviva Premiership clash with Exeter.
Leeds Carnegie head coach Neil Back has made just one change to his starting line-up for Sunday's Aviva Premiership clash with Exeter Chiefs.
Skipper Marco Wentzel is set to make his comeback from injury in the second-row and replaces Sean Hohneck. There is also a change on the bench with hooker Scott Freer ruled out with an arm injury so Phil Nilsen comes back.
“Exeter are safe in the Premiership and can start building now for next season,” said Back.
“I've been really impressed. Coming up from the Championship last year, they have recruited really well and were fully financed. They have taken their opportunities. They don't play massively expansively, but they do the basics outstandingly well and have got good results on the back of that.
“They have a good kicker in Steenson, who has taken his opportunities well and led well. But he's not quite in Charlie's (Hodgson's) shoes.
“Last week, Charlie showed his quality and had five opportunities and kicked five between the posts and that makes a difference when you have a quality international 'ten' in your team.”
Meanwhile, Exeter are confident they can end their Headingley hoodoo and at the same time firmly cement their place in next season's top flight.
In seven previous treks to Yorkshire, the Chiefs have come unstuck on every occasion, including that of two seasons ago when the visitors were undone 18-16 thanks to a late try from replacement Tom Biggs.
Six of this weekend's Chiefs squad are survivors from that occasion and, according to assistant coach Ali Hepher, they are desperate to set the record straight. However, Hepher is well aware that Leeds are currently fighting for their lives and has warned his troops they will turn up on Sunday.
“I think we've got to beat their intensity,” said Hepher.
“We've got to create that environment, that desperation to fight for our lives ourselves.
“That's what it's been about all season. Okay, we're in a different situation now, but it's vital we're able to recreate that.
“Anyone can do it when you're in trouble or when you're struggling, but it's the true top professionals who can produce it week in, week out when there's not such a threat behind them.”
As part of the plan, the visitors have made five changes to their line-up. A heavyweight pack, which totals in excess of 900kg, sees Chad Slade and James Phillips come into the side in place of James Hanks and Tom Johnson; whilst behind an equally big back division is bolstered with the inclusion of Junior Poluleuligaga, Bryan Rennie and Nemani Nadolo.
Samoan Poluleuligaga comes in for his first Premiership start taking over at scrum-half from Haydn Thomas, whilst Rennie's inclusion means a reshuffle behind with Sireli Naqelevuki switching to the left wing and Nadolo coming in on the right. Matt Jess and Nic Sestaret are the men who step aside on the flanks for the two Fijian internationals.
Form: Exeter took the Premiership encounter with Leeds at Sandy Park on 20 November. The Chiefs have lost on all seven previous visits to Leeds in all competitions. Leeds Carnegie have recorded just two Aviva Premiership Rugby victories this season: at home to Gloucester in round 12, and London Irish in round 17. Exeter Chiefs have lost two of their last three Premiership matches, whilst the Devonians only away victory since October was 23-13 at Newcastle on 18 February.
Leeds Carnegie: 15 Michael Stephenson, 14 Lee Blacket, 13 Henry Faafili, 12 Luther Burrell, 11 Peter Wackett, 10 Adrian Jarvis, 9 Scott Mathie, 8 Alfie Tooala, 7 Hendre Fourie, 6 Kearnan Myall, 5 Marco Wentzel, 4 Dan Browne, 3 Phil Swainston, 2 Steve Thompson, 1 Mike MacDonald.
Replacements: 16 Phil Nilsen, 17 Gareth Hardy, 18 Juan Gomez, 19 Danny Paul, 20 Rhys Oakley, 21 Dan White, 22 Christian Lewis-Pratt, 23 Semi Tadulala.
Exeter: 15 Luke Arscott, 14 Nemani Nadolo, 13 Jason Shoemark, 12 Bryan Rennie, 11 Sireli Naqelevuki, 10 Gareth Steenson, 9 Junior Poluleuligaga, 8 Richard Baxter, 7 James Scaysbrook, 6 James Phillips, 5 Chad Slade, 4 Tom Hayes (capt), 3 Chris Budgen, 2 Neil Clark, 1 Brett Sturgess.
Replacements: 16 Chris Whitehead, 17 Ben Moon, 18 Hoani Tui, 19 Dave Gannon, 20 Tom Johnson, 21 Haydn Thomas, 22 Ignacio Mieres, 23 Phil Dollman.
Date: Sunday, April 3
Kick-off: 15:00 (14:00 GMT)
Venue: Headingley Carnegie
Referee: Tim Wigglesworth
Assistant referees: Paul Dix, Martin Buck
Coach: Brian Campsall
Timekeeper: Andrew Turner