Chiefs side to face Wasps
By Mark Stevens
Exeter Chiefs may have guaranteed themselves a home semi-final in this season’s Gallagher Premiership play-offs, but head coach Ali Hepher insists there will be no let-up from the Devonians over these final few weeks of the regular season.
Despite booking their place in the last four of the competition in record time, Hepher insists the Chiefs still have numerous targets to hunt down over these final few weeks of battle as they look to get themselves in prime condition for the knockout phase.
“There is still so much to play for over these last few weeks,” he said. “It’s not just about spots within the side, there are also a few other challenges we’ve set the guys to go after. Right now, it’s not massively important if we finish top or second, but getting that home semi-final was crucial.
“The important thing from now is that we pick up our form and that we keep accelerating. Last week was a knock on against Leicester from the Bath game - and now we’re looking for another knock on against Wasps.”
For Exeter’s Premiership rivals, that’s an ominous warning being sounded out by Hepher, who will have been hugely impressed by the way the Chiefs dismantled Leicester Tigers 52-20 on their own patch.
The seven-try haul accrued at Welford Road certainly showcased the ‘all-court game’ the Chiefs now possess and Hepher is looking for more of the same against Wasps at Sandy Park this Sunday (3pm).
“We are comfortable we can hurt teams in different ways,” explained Hepher. “Whichever tactic is required at any set time, we will take that opportunity. As a squad, we’re looking forward to this weekend’s game. We know it will be tough because Wasps are a good side, full of talented players, but if we perform well, I am sure we will get the result.”
Over the years the Chiefs and Wasps have engaged in some titanic on-field tussles, most notably the Premiership Final two years ago, where an extra-time penalty from Gareth Steenson ensured Exeter of their first-ever top-flight crown.
“One hundred per cent it will be tough on Sunday,” warned Hepher. “A bit like boxing, styles win matches. Every time we play them, it’s always a cracking match. It’s two sides who want to play rugby, so it should be exciting not just for the people in the stadium, but for those watching on TV as well.”
Not surprisingly, the Chiefs see little reason to tinker too much with their winning formula for Sunday’s clash. The back division remains untouched from a week ago, whilst up front it’s merely a case of squad rotation in the front-row with international trio Ben Moon, Luke Cowan-Dickie and Tomas Francis replacing Alec Hepburn, Jack Yeandle and Harry Williams.
With Yeandle on the bench, England international back-row forward Don Armand will assume the captaincy role for the game.
The settled look to the home squad will certainly help continuity within the ranks, but Hepher insists home advantage will also play it’s part, particularly as three of Exeter’s last four games in the season, will be staged at Sandy Park.
“Home advantage definitely helps,” he continued. “We have been good here for a while now, but equally we’re good going away from home. When we looked at the fixture list, we knew this last block was stacked with home fixtures, so we’ve got to use that advantage, knuckle down and don’t take our eye off the ball.
“The key message this week has been not to relax about where we are. We have to make sure we put in a performance this week, we’ve got a week off next week, then we go again for another two games. Let’s keep doing the basics that have got us us to where we are, but let’s do those basics well each and every day. “
It’s a message that has been hammered home all week in training to the 23 selected for duty on Sunday, as well as those who are helping to prepare the team for battle.
“Seasons are made on the guys outside the 23 as much as those in the 23,” explained Hepher. “The way we prepare and the way in which those other guys go after things is hugely important for us. It makes us fine tine ourselves and we’ve seen that through the week. That extra bit of bite in training often means we perform well at the weekend.”
CHIEFS SIDE TO FACE WASPS
15 Santiago Cordero
14 Jack Nowell
13 Henry Slade
12 Ollie Devoto
11 Olly Woodburn
10 Joe Simmonds
9 Nic White
1 Ben Moon
2 Luke Cowan-Dickie
3 Tomas Francis
4 Sean Lonsdale
5 Ollie Atkins
6 Dave Ewers
7 Don Armand (capt)
8 Matt Kvesic
16 Jack Yeandle
17 Alec Hepburn
18 Harry Williams
19 Toby Salmon
20 Richard Capstick
21 Jack Maunder
22 Sam Hill
23 Ian Whitten
* Match Sponsors for the Wasps game are swcomms *