Chiefs side to face Wasps

Mark Stevens
Authored by Mark Stevens
Posted Friday, October 23, 2020 - 1:21pm

In what has been the strangest, toughest, yet - at the same time - most memorable Premiership Rugby campaign ever, it now comes down to just one final fixture.

For the newly-crowned European champions, Exeter Chiefs will rock up at Twickenham tomorrow for a fifth successive outing in the end of season showpiece (6pm).

Rob Baxter's side are well-versed in prepping for a big day out at English Rugby's HQ, but that doesn't mean they merely have to turn up and believe a potential domestic and European double is a mere formality.

Standing in their way will be an in-form Wasps outfit who, having had to deal with Covid-19 disruptions in the build-up to their own final plans, will be looking to cap what has been an impressive turnaround in fortunes since Lee Blackett took charge of the Midlanders back in February.

Bringing together the division's top two sides following the culmination of the regular season, now these two Premiership prize-fighters are set to slug it out in what promises to be a ding-dong final round of action.

Not surprisingly, the Chiefs' Director of Rugby is relishing the heavyweight showdown, which is a repeat of the 2017 final, which the Devonians won in extra-time to claim their one and only Premiership crown to date.

"It's been a tough season for all of us, but we've got to the end and it's great that the teams that finished one and two in the table, then came through the semi-finals, are now contesting the final," said Baxter. 

"Wasps have been smouldering for a few weeks, sitting there waiting, preparing, getting themselves ready for what in every sense is the biggest game of the season. "Yes, we had last week to contend with, but that's gone now and it's this weekend which is the most important thing. That's what we have spoke to the players this week about.

"In every meeting we've said to them we have got to make sure we hit the pitch and match Wasps in every area because we know they are going to bring a physicality and an intensity that will be right up there. There is no point being in a final if you don't match that intensity that the opposition bring."

The Chiefs, though, will come into the contest oozing with confidence having secured a first-ever European crown with victory over Racing 92 in last weekend's Champions Cup Final in Bristol.

In what Baxter described as a 'fantastic occasion'  for the club, he said the focus on celebrations was quickly curtailed, safe in the knowledge that his side could achieve a dream double and write themselves into folklore.

"The boys had a few beers in the changing rooms afterwards and they had a decent bus trip back, but I said to them this week that I know they had celebrated properly and that they hadn't really let themselves go," explained Baxter.

"All of us know there was another game to go, so it's important that the sacrifices they and their families have made over these weeks and months, are now made worthwhile, by turning up and performing well this weekend.

"They have down time coming up and they can celebrate afterwards, but the key thing for me - and I've said it to the lads - is that they can enjoy it all by playing well this weekend. I'd love for them to round off their season in a special way by producing one of those big Exeter-type performances."

Securing the double would be the stuff of dreams for Baxter and the Chiefs, but the Exeter leader knows that nothing is given in sport and that past experience has taught him it's what is produced on the day that ultimately counts.

"Of course you dream," said Baxter. "We're one game away from doing the double, but experience has taught me many teams that dreams don't count for much, it's the hard work you put out on the field which makes it all happen. All we can do is hope and pray that the team make it happen on Saturday and that we win the final."

Although victorious, Baxter has made changes to his winning formula of a week ago. Up front, Sam Skinner takes over from his Scottish international team-mate Jonny Gray, while Jannes Kirsten is preferred to compatriot Jannes Kirsten in the back-row. 

Behind them, Ollie Devoto comes into the centre alongside Henry Slade, while Olly Woodburn is given the nod over Tom O'Flaherty on the right wing. With the exception of O'Flaherty, Gray, Vermeulen and Ian Whitten all drop to the bench, alongside Gareth Steenson, the club's record points-scorer, who will be making his final appearance in a Chiefs jersey.

The Ulsterman is set to join the club's coaching team next season after 12 years of service with the Chiefs. During that time he has amassed 311 appearances, scored 2,630 points, and helped the club out of the Championship and onto title success in the Premiership, Anglo-Welsh Cup and, most recently, Champions Cup.

15 Stuart Hogg
14 Jack Nowell
13 Henry Slade
12 Ollie Devoto
11 Olly Woodburn
10 Joe Simmonds (capt)
9 Jack Maunder
1 Alec Hepburn
2 Luke Cowan-Dickie
3 Harry Williams
4 Sam Skinner
5 Jonny Hill
6 Dave Ewers
7 Jannes Kirsten
8 Sam Simmonds

16 Jack Yeandle
17 Ben Moon
18 Tomas Francis
19 Jonny Gray
20 Jacques Vermeulen
21 Sam Hidalgo-Clyne
22 Gareth Steenson
23 Ian Whitten


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