An all-English tie to savour kicks off this weekend’s Champions Cup quarter-finals when Wasps host Exeter Chiefs.
Back in the pool stages last December it was Exeter who came out on top in a high-scoring clash to savour, aside from Henry Slade’s leg break which ruled him out of the Six Nations.
Now though Slade is back, with Exeter roaring in the league aside from their loss away to Saracens a couple of weeks ago, although that ghost was buried by a 50-point triumph over Worcester last Saturday.
Wasps, inspired by the evergreen George Smith and phenomenal in the group stages, will relish hosting the biggest game so far at their new home in Coventry. Two sides full of ambition who have battled their way over the last few seasons to reach this stage.
James Haskell will captain Wasps as he returns to join George Smith and Nathan Hughes in Wasps’ back row, while Charles Piutau and Dan Robson have both recovered from injury to take their place in an otherwise unchanged backline.
There is also a welcome return for scrum-half Joe Simpson, who is named on the bench and is set to make his first appearance for Wasps since sustaining an ankle injury during Wasps’ final European pool round match, against Leinster on January 23.
In the pack, Carlo Festuccia comes in at hooker and Kearnan Myall lines up alongside Joe Launchbury, to form Wasps’ second row partnership.
Ahead of the European Cup tie, Dai Young said: “We’re all looking forward to Saturday’s Quarter Final and a fantastic European occasion for everyone associated with Wasps and Exeter Chiefs.
“This is where we as coaches, players and supporters want to be, competing against the best teams in Europe and challenging for honours.
“It has been a real squad effort to reach the last eight and we are proud to have come through such a tough pool to earn a home Quarter Final, but we obviously don’t want it to end here.
“Everything now comes down to 80 minutes this Saturday. This is knockout rugby at the highest level that any player can compete at with their club.
“Exeter Chiefs have been excellent all season. They put almost 20 points on us when we met at the Ricoh Arena in the Premiership earlier this season, so they certainly had the measure of us that day. We’d like to think we’ve improved since then, but the proof will be in the pudding this Saturday and we know the challenge will be just as great.”
Meanwhile although victorious last time out against the Warriors, Exeter boss Rob Baxter has tinkered slightly with his winning formula making three changes in personnel.
Up front, England and Lions forward Geoff Parling and fellow lock Mitch Lees pack down in the Exeter engine room.
Phil Dollman’s absence means there is a first-ever European start for Australian international Lachie Turner.
Form: Wasps have won six of their last seven knockout matches in the Champions Cup including each of their last three against Premiership clubs. Wasps have won only three of their last six matches at home in the Champions Cup (D1, L2), this after winning 15 in a row before that. Exeter will be making their Champions Cup quarter-final debut; they have won one of two quarter-final appearances in the Challenge Cup. Exeter are the only club to reach this season's quarter-finals without winning an away fixture in the pool stage. Wasps' Charles Piutau (561) was the only player to make more than 500m in the pool stage. George Smith made more tackles than any other player in the pool stage (81).
Wasps: 15 Charles Piutau, 14 Christian Wade, 13 Elliot Daly, 12 Siale Piutau, 11 Frank Halai, 10 Jimmy Gopperth, 9 Dan Robson, 8 Nathan Hughes, 7 George Smith, 6 James Haskell (c), 5 Kearnan Myall, 4 Joe Launchbury, 3 Jake Cooper-Woolley, 2 Carlo Festuccia, 1 Matt Mullan
Replacements: 16 Ashley Johnson, 17 Simon McIntyre, 18 Lorenzo Cittadini, 19 Bradley Davies, 20 Thomas Young, 21 Joe Simpson, 22 Ruaridh Jackson, 23 Rob Miller
Exeter: 15 Lachie Turner, 14 Jack Nowell, 13 Henry Slade, 12 Ian Whitten, 11 Olly Woodburn, 10 Gareth Steenson (c), 9 Will Chudley, 8 Thomas Waldrom, 7 Julian Salvi, 6 Don Armand, 5 Geoff Parling, 4 Mitch Lees, 3 Moray Low, 2 Luke Cowan-Dickie, 1 Ben Moon
Replacements: 16 Jack Yeandle, 17 Alec Hepburn, 18 Harry Williams, 19 Damian Welch, 20 Dave Ewers, 21 Dave Lewis, 22 Michele Campagnaro, 23 James Short
Date: Saturday, April 9
Venue: Ricoh Arena
Kick-off: 15:15 BST (14:15 GMT)
Referee: Romain Poite (France)
Assistant Referees: Peter Fitzgibbon (Ireland), Tual Trainini (France)
TMO: Simon McDowell (Ireland)