Preview: Exeter Chiefs v London Welsh

Date published: March 6 2015

Flying at the top of the Premiership in third place, Exeter will have targeted London Welsh's visit to Sandy Park as a key fixture to pick up five points.

Three teams are tied on 48 points with the Chiefs sandwiched between Saracens and Wasps, making Saturday's contest all the more crucial as Exeter look to boost their points difference.

The Devon side in many ways have surpassed expectations this season but fully deserve to be threatening at the top on the back of their impressive performances. Thomas Waldrom has been a great signing from Leicester, leading the league with ten tries to date, but it's the young guns in the Chiefs backline and especially Henry Slade that have made the Chiefs such an attractive side to watch in 2014/2015.

Welsh meanwhile seem destined to finish the season without a Premiership victory having now played the two sides closest to them, London Irish and Newcastle, home and away with losses in each contest. They could really struggle in this one.

In team news, London Welsh make ten changes for Saturday's Round 17 Aviva Premiership fixture.

Nick Scott, Carl Kirwan, James Lewis, Olly Barkley and Dean Schofield have all been ruled out after picking up injuries in last weekend's defeat to London Irish, to take the current injury list to 21.

In the backs, Nic Reynolds comes in for James Lewis at outside centre and Alan Awcock replaces Nick Scott on the left wing. Tristan Roberts starts at fly-half.

In the forwards, number eight Opeti Fonua is the only survivor from the loss to Irish. Nathan Trevett, Nathan Morris and Taione Vea all return to the front-row, while Ben West comes in for Dean Schofield in the second-row, where he'll partner James Down. 

Lachlan McCaffrey is named at blindside flanker with Richard Thorpe replacing Carl Kirwan at openside. Thorpe will captain the side.

On the bench, Chis Hala'ufia is set to make his first appearance for the Exiles since their defeat to Wasps at Adams Park in November.

Meanwhile, it is little surprise therefore that the Chiefs stick with the tried and trusted personnel of a week ago. Aussie international Dean Mumm skippers the side from the second-row, whilst Will Chudley and Henry Slade – who between them scored all of Exeter's points against Bath – again form the half-back pairing.

"Being in good shape come the end of the Six Nations to go and compete in various different levels is key. Last year we obviously had the LV= Cup, which was a huge focus for us and we achieved that goal, but we maybe slipped off as a result of that in terms of the Premiership," said coach Ali Hepher.

"We're not going to make the same mistake twice that's for sure. Our focus is completely on the Premiership with the bonus of being in the two Cup competitions. This is what it's all about. To be a top side at this level, this is when you want to be involved in big games and we’re going to be involved in some big games coming up. That will be a great test for the guys and a great test for us as coaches, but it will certainly be exciting and something we will relish."

Form: Exeter Chiefs’ only defeat in their last seven matches in all competitions was 18-35 at Saracens in round 4 of the Anglo-Welsh Cup. The only two visitors to have won at Sandy Park in any competition this season are Leicester in September and Gloucester in January, both in Aviva Premiership Rugby. London Welsh’s only league point garnered in Aviva Premiership Rugby this season was a try bonus in round 2 at Bath, whilst their opponents have tallied 78 league points. Exeter have won their last three fixtures against London Welsh since the Exiles 25-24 victory at Kassam Stadium in Aviva Premiership Rugby in September 2012. London Welsh have lost on all six previous visits they have made to Sandy Park in all competitions and have not beaten Exeter on their own soil since a visit to the old County Ground in National One in October 2000.

The teams:

Exeter Chiefs: 15 Phil Dollman, 14 Tom James, 13 Ian Whitten, 12 Sam Hill, 11 Matt Jess, 10 Henry Slade, 9 Will Chudley, 8 Thomas Waldrom, 7 Don Armand, 6 Dave Ewers, 5 Damian Welch, 4 Dean Mumm (c), 3 Tomas Francis, 2 Jack Yeandle, 1 Carl Rimmer.
Replacements: 16 Luke Cowan-Dickie, 17 Brett Sturgess, 18 Alex Brown, 19 Mitch Lees, 20 Ben White, 21 Dave Lewis, 22 Gareth Steenson, 23 Byron McGuigan.

London Welsh: 15 Elliot Kear, 14 Seb Stegmann, 13 Nic Reynolds, 12 James Tincknell, 11 Alan Awcock, 10 Tristan Roberts, 9 Rob Lewis, 8 Opeti Fonua, 7 Richard Thorpe (c), 6 Lachlan McCaffrey, 5 James Down, 4 Ben West, 3 Taione Vea, 2 Nathan Morris, 1 Nathan Trevett.
Replacements: 16 Rob Elloway, 17 Eddie Aholelei, 18 Jack Gilding, 19 Matt Corker, 20 Chris Hala'ufia, 21 Alex Davies, 22 Will Robinson, 23 Tom May.

Date: Saturday, 7 March
Venue: Sandy Park
Kick-off: 15:00 GMT
Referee: Craig Maxwell-Keys
Assistant referees: Peter Huckle & Andrew Pearce
TMO: Geoff Warren.