Preview: Exeter v Wasps

Date published: April 29 2016

Exeter Chiefs head coach Rob Baxter has made two changes to his starting line-up that will take on Wasps in the Premiership on Saturday.

Up front, Dave Ewers is recalled at blindside flank, so Don Armand switches to number eight and leading try-scorer Thomas Waldrom drops down to the bench.

In the back division, fit-again Phil Dollman is given the nod at full-back in place of Australian international Lachie Turner.

On the bench, centre Sam Hill also returns to the fray having sat out the last few games with minor knocks.

The Chiefs triumphed 41-27 in the corresponding league fixture back in December, but the Midlanders gained their revenge last month when Jimmy Gopperth’s last-gasp conversion saw them sneak a 25-24 victory in the Champions Cup quarter-final.

It was certainly a gut-wrenching defeat for Baxter and his squad, who subsequently lost away to Gloucester a week later in the Premiership. However, refreshed and revived following a week of inactivity following their European exit, the Chiefs leader believes his team will deliver a big response this weekend.

“I’m not going to say we wouldn’t have liked to be in a European semi-final, of course we would,” said Baxter.

“We worked very hard to get there and we came up a bit short on the day. However, it’s like anything in sport, you take every advantage you can get and obviously having our first weekend off this season has definitely helped us prepare well this week.

“Yes, it was a welcome break, physically and mentally, for all of us – and I think the results of how we have trained this week have shown we are back and ready to go again.”

Meanwhile, there is only one change to the Wasps starting XV from last weekend’s European semi-final, with Joe Simpson starting in the number nine shirt in place of Dan Robson, who is ruled out through the concussion injury sustained against Saracens last Saturday.

On the bench, Tom Bristow, Will Rowlands and Craig Hampson all get their chance among the replacements.

Looking ahead to Sunday’s match, with just two games of the regular Premiership season remaining and a home semi-final up for grabs, boss Dai Young said: “We worked so hard to make it to the Champions Cup Semi Finals and we were obviously disappointed for our European journey to end last week. That was the first experience of knock-out rugby at that level for a lot of these players. As this week has gone on, the players have reacted really well, focusing on the task in hand and putting all their energy into the Premiership fixture this weekend.

“Exeter Chiefs will have the benefit of having had a week off and I’m sure they will have a bit of a sting in their tail from losing to us in the European Quarter Final. They have been in pole position for second place in the league for most of the season and they will be determined to get themselves a home semi-final.

“We have never won at Sandy Park so we know how difficult it will be. Both sides want to play rugby and, in front of a sell-out crowd, it should be a great occasion.

“Our supporters have been brilliant this season and to bring an Aviva Premiership Semi Final to the Ricoh Arena would be a good way for us to give something back to them. It’s a big challenge in front of us to be able to achieve that, but one we are all looking forward to.”

Form: Exeter Chiefs have already secured a semi-final spot for the first time just six seasons after they were promoted into England’s top flight. The Chiefs last seven matches in Aviva Premiership Rugby have all been won by the home side whilst the Devonians only defeat at Sandy Park since January 2015 came when Saracens were the visitors in February 2016. Wasps have already secured a semi-final berth for the first time since they won the Premiership title in 2007/08. A bonus point victory against Exeter would ensure that the semi-final is played at home. Wasps solitary defat in the last 12 rounds of Aviva Premiership Rugby was 10-13 at Gloucester on 5th March. The two sides have already met twice this season, both at the Ricoh Arena with Chiefs winning in Premiership Rugby in December and Wasps in the quarter-final of the Champions Cup in April. Wasps have been defeated in all six previous visits to Sandy Park in all tournaments whilst their only win on Exeter soil in competitive rugby was at the County Ground in the quarter-final of the Pilkington Cup in February 1995.

The teams:

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

Wasps: 15 Charles Piutau, 14 Christian Wade, 13 Elliot Daly, 12 Siale Piutau, 11 Frank Halai, 10 Jimmy Gopperth, 9 Joe Simpson, 8 Nathan Hughes, 7 George Smith, 6 James Haskell (c), 5 Bradley Davies, 4 Joe Launchbury, 3 Lorenzo Cittadini, 2 Carlo Festuccia 1 Matt Mullan
Replacements: 16 Ashley Johnson, 17 Tom Bristow, 18 Phil Swainston, 19 Will Rowlands, 20 Thomas Young, 21 Craig Hampson, 22 Ruaridh Jackson, 23 Rob Miller

Date: Sunday, May 1
Venue: Sandy Park
Kick-off: 13:00 BST (12:00 GMT)
Referee: Matthew Carley
Assistant Referees: Paul Dix, Ashley Rowden
TMO: Graham Hughes