Planet Rugby

Preview: Exeter v Gloucester

03rd May 2013 00:12

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Matt Jess of Exeter is tackled by Charlie Sharples of Gloucester

Gunning for Europe: Exeter Chiefs

Exeter Chiefs host Gloucester in the final round of the Premiership on Saturday, knowing a Heineken Cup place is within their grasp.

Victory for the Chiefs this weekend will not only guarantee them of the final qualification spot, but it could also see Rob Baxter's side leapfrog their rivals in the league standings and potentially claim fifth spot for a second successive season.

However, fighting for the same space are Bath - who themselves face a testing final day trip to Saracens - after their latest win at home to Leicester Tigers saw them keep their own European aspirations alive and kicking.

For Baxter, his focus - and that of his team - is solely on the visit of the Cherry and Whites and ensuring they continue their impressive run of Premiership form that has seen them win five of their last six games.

"To be at this stage of the season with still something very important to fight for is an important place to be," said Baxter.

"The fact it's for a Heineken Cup place is just fantastic. I've said before, it's not the be all or end all if we do or don't get into the Heineken Cup, but what is important is that we keep developing and we keep taking steps forward. The last four or five weeks have been great for us and I look at the way the players have attacked games, especially to go after the top half of the Premiership and that makes me immensely proud.

"They have shown it's very important to them to be seen as a good side in the Premiership and that they want the challenge of the Heineken Cup. Now it's in their hands because they have worked extremely hard to create this scenario, one in which they are just one game away from making important things happen. Now they have to go out grab it with two hands, not be afraid of it, and be excited about it."

Buoyed by their impressive win at London Wasps a fortnight ago, it's little wonder that Baxter sticks with an unchanged match-day squad for their final outing. That means the Chiefs will again be led out by long-serving number eight Richard Baxter, who will be pulling on an Exeter jersey for the final time.

In a 16-year career with the club, the 34-year-old forward has amassed over 430 appearances and scored 126 tries.

Meanwhile, Gloucester Director of Rugby Nigel Davies has selected the same starting XV that defeated Saracens a fortnight ago.

With his starting XV unchanged, Davies only makes changes amongst the replacements. Hooker Darren Dawidiuk is back after suspension and Mike Tindall and Shane Monahan come in for Ryan Mills and Martyn Thomas.

Speaking to the media this week, Davies insisted that it was important for his side to finish this season on a positive note.

"When you look at the fixture, you'd say there is everything for Exeter to play for, to get that all important European qualification, and nothing for us," said Davies.

"But that's certainly not how we're looking at this game. We're very much looking at this as the start to our next season.

"We've failed to get into the top four, probably because we haven't been able to go to places like Exeter and get a result. It's very important that we establish the right mindset and focus to be able to do that.

"They're a very competitive side, play some good rugby, score lots of tries. From what they say, they were frustrated by the result up here and will be looking to make amends for it. So, it will be a tough afternoon for us."

Form: Five wins from their last six Aviva Premiership games have catapulted Exeter up the table, and with Bath two points adrift in seventh place any sort of win will secure a top-six berth for the hosts. Exeter's future lies in their own hands with victory guaranteeing them a place at Europe's top table. Bath could still spoil the party should they emerge from Saracens with victory on the final day of the season and Exeter slip up at home. Gloucester's only defeat in their last four Premiership encounters was 9-32 at Sale on 12th April. Gloucester have already secured a European Cup spot for next season, but have not won on the road since beating the Saints at Franklin's Gardens in round 14. Gloucester have the slight edge in previous Premiership encounters with the Chiefs, gaining three wins to two including an 18-16 victory at Kingsholm on 22 December.

The teams:

Exeter: 15 Luke Arscott, 14 Jack Nowell, 13 Phil Dollman, 12 Jason Shoemark, 11 Matt Jess, 10 Gareth Steenson, 9 Haydn Thomas, 8 Richard Baxter (c), 7 James Scaysbrook, 6 Ben White, 5 Damian Welch, 4 Dean Mumm, 3 Hoani Tui, 2 Jack Yeandle, 1 Brett Sturgess.
Replacements: 16 Chris Whitehead, 17 Carl Rimmer, 18 Craig Mitchell, 19 Aly Muldowney, 20 Dave Ewers, 21 Will Chudley, 22 Henry Slade, 23 Ian Whitten.

Gloucester: 15 Rob Cook, 14 Charlie Sharples, 13 Henry Trinder, 12 Billy Twelvetrees, 11 Jonny May, 10 Freddie Burns, 9 Dan Robson, 8 Ben Morgan 7 Akapusi Qera, 6 Sione Kalamafoni, 5 Lua Lokotui, 4 Tom Savage (c), 3 Shaun Knight, 2 Koree Britton, 1 Nick Wood.
Replacements: 16 Darren Dawidiuk, 17 Dan Murphy, 18 Yann Thomas, 19 Peter Buxton, 20 Andy Hazell, 21 Dave Lewis, 22 Mike Tindall, 23 Shane Monahan.

Date: Saturday, May 4
Venue: Sandy Park
Kick-off: 14:30
Referee: Greg Garner
Assistant Referees: Peter Huckle and Paul Burton
TMO: Geoffrey Warren

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Friday , September 26
London Welsh vs Gloucester19:45
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Saracens vs Sale15:00
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Cheetahs vs Blue Bulls19:10
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Sunday , September 21
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1Bath314
2Saracens313
3Northampton311
4Exeter310
5Leicester Tigers39