London Welsh give a birthday debut to New Zealand World Cup winning scrum-half Piri Weepu on Sunday against Exeter.
Weepu, who turns 31 on Sunday, is one of nine summer signings making their first competitive appearance for London Welsh against the Chiefs. The others being Tim Molenaar, Olly Barkley, Ricky Reeves, Koree Britton, Taione Vea, Dean Schofield, James Down and Lachlan McCaffrey.
Wingers Seb Stegmann and Nick Scott will be hoping to continue their good pre-season try scoring form. The pair played a crucial role in last season’s Championship success scoring 13 and 11 tries respectively.
Club captain Matt Corker is named among the replacements and is set to make his 201st appearance for London Welsh, as he begins his eighth season at the Exiles.
“Everybody involved with London Welsh worked so hard last season, on and off the field, and we were all so proud of our achievement of gaining promotion, but we’ve now got to make sure we retain our position within the Aviva Premiership,” said London Welsh head coach Justin Burnell.
“We’ve spent the last seven weeks planning towards Sunday and it’s going to be good to see where we’re actually at. There’s no better measuring stick than playing Exeter on Sunday and that’s when we’ll see where we are at.
“The biggest thing for the coaching staff is that we put in a performance in line with what we’ve been training towards. It’s about getting our head down and doing what we’re good at, and that’s working hard.
“Our preparations could have been better but I don’t think you’re ever going to get it 100% – we’ve unfortunately had a couple of injuries – but that’s part and parcel and you’ve just got to get on with it. It would be easy to start looking for excuses. It’s about turning up and giving a wholehearted performance that we can all be proud of.
“The step up from the Championship to the Aviva Premiership is massive. There are some really good sides in the Championship, but when you look at the Premiership it’s across the board – every single team on their day is capable of beating each other. And the calibre of player playing in the Premiership has gone up another level again.
“Everything in the Premiership is five yards faster and ten kilos heavier. The pace and power of the Premiership is another level. You’ve got to maintain that. It could end up being a long 80 minutes if you’re not careful and that’s what we’ve got to be conscious of.
“For us, it’s all very well being proud of being part of the competition, but we’ve also got to be competitive and that’s something we have to ensure we are on Sunday.”
Meanwhile for Exeter, with skipper Dean Mumm heading up a list of notable absentees that include the likes of Jack Nowell, Damian Welch, Fetu’u Vainikolo, Phil Dollman and Dave Lewis, Baxter’s opening squad of the season has a somewhat new-look to it with four of his eight newcomers being handed a start in the pack.
Prop Tomas Francis packs down in the front-row, while former Welsh player Mitch Lees is joined in the second row alongside Ryan Caldwell, and England international Thomas Waldrom is at number eight.
Fellow newcomer Moray Low offers able back-up from the bench, which also includes Jack Arnott for the first time in the Premiership.
Form: Newly promoted London Welsh were victorious in their most recent Aviva Premiership Rugby encounter, beating Worcester at Kassam Stadium in May 2013, and are attempting to win back-to-back Premiership matches for only the second time. The Exiles have won their last nine home games in all tournaments. Exeter Chiefs last five matches have all surprisingly been won by the away side on the day. The Chiefs record in their opening fixture of the Premiership season is won three lost one. The Chiefs have visited Kassam Stadium just twice before, losing 24-25 in the Premiership in September 2012 and winning 42-15 in the Anglo-Welsh Cup two months later.
London Welsh: 15 Seb Jewell, 14 Seb Stegmann, 13 Tom May (c), 12 Tim Molenaar, 11 Nick Scott, 10 Olly Barkley, 9 Piri Weepu, 8 Lachlan McCaffrey, 7 Richard Thorpe, 6 Pete Browne, 5 James Down, 4 Dean Schofield, 3 Taione Vea, 2 Koree Britton, 1 Ricky Reeves
Replacements: 16 Nathan Vella, 17 Pablo Henn, 18 Jack Gilding, 19 Matt Corker, 20 Ollie Stedman, 21 Rob Lewis, 22 Tristan Roberts, 23 Rhys Crane.
Exeter Chiefs: 15 Chrysander Botha, 14 Ian Whitten, 13 Henry Slade, 12 Sam Hill, 11 Matt Jess, 10 Gareth Steenson, 9 Haydn Thomas, 8 Thomas Waldrom, 7 Ben White, 6 Dave Ewers, 5 Ryan Caldwell, 4 Mitch Lees, 3 Tomas Francis, 2 Jack Yeandle (c), 1 Carl Rimmer
Replacements: 16 Elvis Taione, 17 Ben Moon, 18 Moray Low, 19 Don Armand, 20 Kai Horstmann, 21 Will Chudley, 22 Ceri Sweeney, 23 Jack Arnott
Date: Sunday, September 7
Venue: Kassam Stadium
Kickoff: 14:00 (local, 13:00 GMT)
Referee: Dean Richards
Assistant Referees: Roger Baileff, Roy Maybank
TMO: Graham Hughes