Preview: Exeter Chiefs v London Irish

Date published: October 23 2015

Exeter Chiefs head coach Rob Baxter has made three changes to his starting line-up for Saturday's Premiership clash with London Irish at Sandy Park. 

Henry Slade returns in the centre alongside Ian Whitten, whilst England colleague Jack Nowell is also back and given a role on the wing at the expense of Matt Jess. 

Up front, Tomas Francis – fresh from World Cup duty with Wales – is drafted straight back into the fold at tighthead, whilst there is a first inclusion on the bench for England and British and Irish Lions lock, Geoff Parling, who joined the Chiefs this summer from Leicester Tigers.

Last term only two sides – Leicester Tigers and Gloucester – emerged victorious from the Devon venue as the Chiefs posted their best-ever top flight finish.

Sadly, such form was not enough to ensure Baxter's men of a top four placing, points difference denying them on the final day, but it did show the Chiefs were more than a match for anyone on their own turf. 

Baxter is keen that his squad start their 2015/16 home campaign with a bang. 

"We are a good team at home, we have built the foundations over the seasons with the qualities of our home performances and we have to do that again," said Baxter.

Even at the death last week the Chiefs were in sight of victory, but Slade's last-gasp drop-goal attempt failed to hit the mark and it was the hosts who were left celebrating in the Roman City.

Meanwhile, London Irish head coach, Tom Coventry, has selected Scotland internationals Blair Cowan and Sean Maitland in his matchday 23.

The starting XV sees two changes to the side that lost out to Leicester last week. Tom Smallbone comes in for Tom Court at loosehead prop alongside David Paice and Halani Aulika in the front-row.

The back five remained unchanged, with captain George Skivington and Matt Symons in the second-row with Jebb Sinclair, Luke Narraway and Rob McCusker making up the back-row.

Brendan McKibbin and Chris Noakes link up once more at scrum-half and fly-half respectively, with Eoin Griffin and Tom Fowlie named in the midfield.

The other change comes in the back row, with Fijian international Aseli Tikoirotuma starting on the wing, with Topsy Ojo moving to full-back and Alex Lewington named on the other wing.

Form: The Chiefs went down 19-17 to Bath and have never begun an Aviva Premiership Rugby campaign with a pair of defeats. Exeter are a force to be reckoned with at home – their single defeat at Sandy Park in the last ten league fixtures being a 26-25 reverse to Gloucester on January 3. For their part, London Irish went down 28-16 to Leicester Tigers at the Madejski Stadium on Sunday. The Exiles are winless in their last four Aviva Premiership Rugby fixtures and have only won one league game away from home since Round Four last season.

The teams:

Exeter: 15 Phil Dollman, 14 Jack Nowell, 13 Henry Slade, 12 Ian Whitten, 11 James Short, 10 Gareth Steenson (c), 9 Will Chudley, 8 Thomas Waldrom, 7 Don Armand, 6 Dave Ewers, 5 Damian Welch, 4 Mitch Lees, 3 Tomas Francis, 2 Luke Cowan-Dickie, 1 Ben Moon.
Replacements: 16 Jack Yeandle, 17 Alec Hepburn, 18 Moray Low, 19 Geoff Parling, 20 Julian Salvi, 21 Dave Lewis, 22 Sam Hill, 23 Olly Woodburn.

London Irish: 15 Topsy Ojo, 14 Alex Lewington, 13 Tom Fowlie, 12 Eoin Griffin, 11 Aseli Tikoirotuma, 10 Chris Noakes, 9 Brendan McKibbin, 8 Rob McCusker, 7 Luke Narraway, 6 Jebb Sinclair, 5 Matt Symons, 4 George Skivington (c), 3 Halani Aulika, 2 David Paice, 1 Tom Smallbone.
Replacements: 16 Gerard Ellis, 17 Tom Court, 18 Leo Halavatau, 19 Eoin Sheriff, 20 Blair Cowan, 21 Scott Steele, 22 Shane Geraghty, 23 Sean Maitland.

Date: Saturday, October 24
Venue: Sandy Park
Kick-off: 18:00 local (17:00 GMT)
Referee: Andrew Small
Assistant Referees: Andrew Pearce, Wayne Falla
TMO: Geoff Warren