Preview: Exeter Chiefs v Saracens

Date published: May 19 2017

Exeter boss Rob Baxter has been buoyed by the return to fitness of several key men ahead of the semi-final against Saracens.

In the pack, Don Armand and Thomas Waldrom both return in the back row, while Phil Dollman is also recalled to the starting line-up at full-back.

Gareth Steenson skippers the side from fly-half; James Short lines-up against his former club on the wing; while at centre Steenson’s compatriot, Ian Whitten, will run out for his 100th league appearance for the Chiefs.

On the bench, Mitch Lees is another returnee having overcome a knee injury, while international duo Henry Slade and Michele Campagnaro are both included having missed the win at Gloucester last time out.

Meanwhile, Saracens boss Mark McCall makes one change to the side that defeated ASM Clermont Auvergne in Edinburgh in the Champions Cup final, with skipper Brad Barritt forced to sit-out the clash with a leg injury.  

Owen Farrell will skipper Saracens in Barritt’s enforced absence, with Scotland international Duncan Taylor coming into the side at inside centre.

Up front, loosehead prop Mako Vunipola packs down alongside Jamie George in the Saracens front row with Vincent Koch continuing at tighthead prop.

Maro Itoje and George Kruis are named at lock, whilst in the back row Billy Vunipola starts at number eight alongside the in-form loose forward duo of Michael Rhodes (blindside flanker) and Jackson Wray (openside flanker).

Scrum-half Richard Wigglesworth partners skipper Owen Farrell, whilst at centre, Duncan Taylor partners Marcelo Bosch. In the back-three, Sean Maitland (injury) is replaced by Chris Wyles on the left-wing to join Chris Ashton (right-wing) and Alex Goode.

On the bench, experienced front-row duo Schalk Brits and Petrus Du Plessis are joined by USA international Titi Lamositele, with Jim Hamilton taking his place amongst the replacements – Schalk Burger takes the other forwards replacements spot. Ben Spencer is the replacement scrum-half, joining Alex Lozowski and Mike Ellery in the matchday 23.

Form: Exeter Chiefs finished off the regular season with a run of eight successive maximum point victories and play in the semi-finals for a second successive year. The Devonians have lost just twice at Sandy Park in Aviva Premiership Rugby this season – to Saracens in round two and Bath in round seven. Saracens are unbeaten in their last five matches against The Chiefs since Exeter’s 24-20 win at Allianz Park in May 2015. Saracens record at Sandy Park is an impressive won five, lost two.

The teams: 

Exeter Chiefs: 15 Phil Dollman, 14 Jack Nowell, 13 Ian Whitten, 12 Ollie Devoto, 11 James Short, 10 Gareth Steenson (c), 9 Stuart Townsend, 8 Thomas Waldrom, 7 Don Armand, 6 Kai Horstmann, 5 Geoff Parling, 4 Dave Dennis, 3 Harry Williams, 2 Luke Cowan-Dickie, 1 Ben Moon
Replacements: 16 Jack Yeandle, 17 Carl Rimmer, 18 Tomas Francis, 19 Mitch Lees, 20 Sam Simmonds, 21 Will Chudley, 22 Henry Slade, 23 Michele Campagnaro

Saracens: 15 Alex Goode, 14 Chris Ashton, 13 Marcelo Bosch, 12 Duncan Taylor, 11 Chris Wyles, 10 Owen Farrell (c), 9 Richard Wigglesworth, 8 Billy Vunipola, 7 Jackson Wray, 6 Michael Rhodes, 5 George Kruis, 4 Maro Itoje, 3 Vincent Koch, 2 Jamie George, 1 Mako Vunipola
Replacements: 16 Schalk Brits, 17 Titi Lamositele, 18 Petrus Du Plessis, 19 Jim Hamilton, 20 Schalk Burger, 21 Ben Spencer, 22 Alex Lozowski, 23 Mike Ellery (40)

Date: Saturday, May 20
Venue: Sandy Park
Kick-off: 14:30 local (13:30 GMT)
Referee: Wayne Barnes
Assistant Referees: Craig Maxwell-Keys, Ross Campbell
TMO: Stuart Terheege