REDEMPTION: Just a few short months after Exeter Chiefs’ triumph over Wasps in the Premiership Rugby Final the two teams will meet again in Round Four of the new campaign.
Wasps will be out for revenge after suffering extra-time heartbreak at Twickenham in May with flank James Haskell expecting another close encounter.
Haskell’s side beat the Chiefs 25-20 at the Ricoh Arena last year before an enthralling 35-35 draw at Sandy Park in the reverse fixture in February.
And while Wasps finished top of the pile last term, both sides finished with 84 points, so the result at Sandy Park in Round Four could prove crucial come to the end of the season.
"Playing Exeter in Round Four is huge for the club," said Haskell. "As a player, it’s about just trying to pit yourself against the best and Exeter have been doing that for a long time.
"It will add a little bit more spice to the occasion the fact that we got beaten but we’ve played Exeter so many times in the last few years. You know it’s a big game, you have to raise yourself up.
"To be honest with you, they’ve been so close to winning the final which they managed to achieve last year, over the last couple of years they’re always a team to beat,"
And while Wasps saw their unbeaten home record ended by Harlequins at the weekend, Exeter Chiefs looked in fine form as they beat Worcester Warriors 41-10 at Sixways.
The win leaves the Chiefs a single point above Wasps in the league table as the familiar foes sit, once again, first and second in the Premiership Rugby standings.
"Us and Wasps finished on exactly the same points last season and one or two points is the difference between home semi-final or even a semi-final at all," added Chiefs wing, Jack Nowell.
"I think Wasps in Round four is going to be a big one. Wasps are a quality team, they’ve probably got even stronger from last year the main thing is that every point counts again.
"We like to back ourselves at home so again they’re going to be one of the top teams this season so that’s one of the teams we want to beat,"
We take a look at Round four action!
Friday, September 22
Gloucester Rugby v Worcester Warriors
(Kingsholm - Kick-off: 19.45, 18.45 GMT)
Gloucester Rugby have won just one of their last four Premiership Rugby encounters, over reigning champions Exeter Chiefs at Kingsholm in round 1. Gloucester’s most recent home defeat was also against Exeter, in round 22 last season.
Worcester Warriors have lost their last five Premiership Rugby matches since beating Bath 25-19 at Sixways in April. The Warriors have not won away from home in Premiership Rugby since a visit to Harlequins in March 2016.
The last three encounters between the two clubs have been evenly split with a win apiece plus a draw, whilst Worcester’s only previous victory at Kingsholm was 13-6 in Premiership Rugby in April 2009.
Gloucester: 15 Jason Woodward, 14 Charlie Sharples, 13 Billy Twelvetrees, 12 Mark Atkinson, 11 Ollie Thorley 10 Billy Burns, 9 Willi Heinz (captain), 8 Ruan Ackermann, 7 Jacob Rowan, 6 Freddie Clarke, 5 Jeremy Thrush; 4 Ed Slater, 3 John Afoa, 2 Motu Matu’u, 1 Val Rapava Ruskin.
Replacements: 16 Richard Hibbard, 17 Josh Hohneck, 18 Gareth Denman, 19 Tom Savage, 20 Lewis Ludlow, 21 Ben Vellacott, 22 Henry Trinder, 23 David Halaifonua.
Worcester: 15 Josh Adams, 14 Perry Humphreys, 13 Jackson Willison, 12 Ben Te’o, 11 Bryce Heem, 10 Ryan Mills, 9 Peter Stringer, 8 GJ van Velze, 7 Sam Lewis, 6 Alafoti Faosiliva, 5 Pierce Phillips, 4 Donncha O’Callaghan (captain), 3 Biyi Alo, 2 Jack Singleton, 1 Ryan Bower.
Replacements: 16 Joe Taufete’e, 17 Ethan Waller, 18 Gareth Milasinovich, 19 Christian Scotland-Williamson, 20 David Denton, 21 Jono Kitto, 22 Dean Hammond, 23 Jamie Shillcock.
Referee: Wayne Barnes
Assistant Referees: Adam Leal, Peter Allan.
TMO: Rowan Kitt.
Saturday, September 23
Bath Rugby v Newcastle Falcons
(Recreation Ground - Kick-off: 15.00, 14.00GMT)
Bath Rugby’s record over the last eight rounds of Premiership Rugby is an even, won four lost four, whilst their only defeat at the Recreation Ground in any competition since New Year’s Eve was to Wasps in round 17 of Premiership Rugby.
Newcastle Falcons’ four-game winning run in Premiership Rugby ended in Philadelphia on Saturday with their 7-29 reversal to Saracens. The Falcons have won their last two away games at Bristol and at Sale, but have not won three in a row on the road since 2013.
The last four encounters between the two clubs in Premiership Rugby have all been won by the home side on the day, whilst the Falcons have not won in Bath since October 2009.
Newcastle Falcons: TBC
Referee: Craig Maxwell-Keys
Assistant Referees: Anthony Woodthorpe, Roy Maybank.
TMO: David Sainsbury.
Harlequins v Leicester Tigers
(Twickenham Stoop - Kick-off: 15.00, 14.00GMT)
Harlequins have won their last two Premiership Rugby matches, against Gloucester and Wasps, but have not won three in a row in the tournament since May 2014. Quins lost just twice at the Twickenham Stoop last season in Premiership Rugby, against Leicester and Exeter.
Leicester Tigers ended a three-game losing run in Premiership Rugby with their 24-10 victory over Gloucester at Welford Road on Saturday. The Tigers record on the road in Premiership Rugby last season was won six, lost five.
Tigers achieved the season’s double over Harlequins last year for the first time since 2010/11. Leicester have not won three games in succession against the Londoners since 2008 and have won on their last two visits to the Twickenham Stoop, against Harlequins in February and Exeter in the final of the Anglo-Welsh Cup in March.
Leicester Tigers: TBC
Referee: Ian Tempest
Assistant Referees: Hamish Smales, Jonathan Healy.
TMO: Geoffrey Warren.
Saracens v Sale Sharks
(Allianz Park - Kick-off: 15.00, 14.00GMT)
Saracens last six matches in all competitions have been evenly split with three wins and three defeats. Saracens have lost just one of their last 24 home games in all competitions at all their home venues; 10-32 to Leicester in the semi-final of the Anglo-Welsh Cup in March – their most recent defeat at home in Premiership Rugby was to Northampton at Allianz Park in March 2016.
Sale Sharks have gained just three victories in their last seven Aviva Premiership Rugby contests but tallied four-try bonus points in that sequence. Sale have won just once away from home in Premiership Rugby in May 2016: 31-13 at relegated Bristol last October.
Saracens are unbeaten in their last six matches against Sale, whilst the Sharks only victory in their last twelve fixtures with Saracens was 14-10 at AJ Bell Stadium in February 2015. Sale have won only once on Saracens soil in Premiership Rugby history: 40-32 at Vicarage Road in September 2005.
Sale Sharks: TBC
Referee: Thomas Foley
Assistant Referees: Tim Wigglesworth, Paul Dix.
TMO: David Grashoff.
Sunday, September 24
Exeter Chiefs v Wasps
(Sandy Park - Kick-off: 15.00, 14.00GMT)
Exeter Chiefs only defeat in Premiership Rugby since last October was 21-28 at Gloucester on the opening evening of the new season. The Chiefs have not been defeated at Sandy Park in the competition since Bath were the visitors in round 7 last season.
Wasps lost their 100% winning record with their home defeat to Harlequins on Sunday but have lost only two of their last eight away games in Premiership Rugby – at Sale and at Harlequins.
Exeter have lost just one of their last six encounters with Wasps in Premiership Rugby: 20-25 at the Ricoh Arena in September 2016. Wasps have never won in ten previous visits to Sandy Park in all tournaments, although they did draw there 35-all in round 14 last season.
Exeter Chiefs: TBC
Referee: JP Doyle
Assistant Referees: Christophe Ridley, Simon McConnell.
TMO: Graham Hughes.
London Irish v Northampton Saints
(Madejski Stadium - Kick-off: 15.00, 14.00 GMT)
London Irish have lost their last two Premiership Rugby matches 7-37 at Exeter and 7-36 at Sale.
The Exiles have won their last three matches at Madejski Stadium since Jersey beat them there in the
semi-final of last year’s British & Irish Cup.
Northampton Saints have lost only one of their last four Premiership Rugby matches: 24-55 to Saracens at Twickenham in the London doubleheader. The Saints have lost their last three away games in the competition.
The East Midlanders’ only loss in their last seven encounters with London Irish in Premiership Rugby
was 23-25 on their most recent visit to Reading on Boxing Day 2015.
London Irish: TBC
Northampton Saints: TBC
Referee: Luke Pearce (64th Premiership game).
Assistant Referees: Jack Makepeace, Greg Macdonald.
TMO: Sean Davey.
PREMIERSHIP SUNDAY WRAP: Olly Woodburn paved the way for a superb Exeter Chiefs victory over Wasps, with the Premiership champions prevailing 31-17 at Sandy Park.
A repeat of last year’s final – which was only decided by Gareth Steenson’s extra-time penalty – this clash was far more convincing from the Chiefs, who claimed a try-bonus point after Woodburn scored twice and Dave Dennis, Don Armand and Shaun Malton all also crossed.
Meanwhile, Rob Horne stole the limelight with a pair of dazzling tries to put London Irish to the sword and continue Northampton Saints' resurgence.
Exeter Chiefs 31-17 Wasps
The hosts set out as they meant to continue early on and put massive pressure on the Wasps line for the opening eight minutes, which eventually paid dividends despite strong defence from the visitors.
Dai Young's side committed men up front and two flat passes from Gareth Steenson and Lachie Turner spread the ball wide for Olly Woodburn to finish easily in the left corner.
Gareth Steenson's conversion attempt drifted wide and Wasps hit straight back; a botched line-out from the visitors saw Sam Skinner disrupt, but Ashley Johnson was the beneficiary as he reacted quicker than anybody else to snatch up the loose ball and charge over the line – Jimmy Gopperth adding the extras.
Another penalty from Gopperth, wearing the No.10 jersey, stretched the lead as Exeter were pinged for tackling a man off the ball in a line-out.
But it was the Kiwi's mistake that cost Wasps a score as he cleared long – but out on the full – and with the ball taken back inside the 22 Exeter made him pay, with Dave Dennis holding off a couple of tackles rumbling over from the line-out.
The wind again affected Steenson's touchline conversion attempt to leave the scores locked at 10-10 on 20 minutes, but Chiefs were soon out in front as Henry Slade found Don Armand and the flank produced a wonderful finish.
He smashed through Rob Miller and Josh Bassett to somehow dot down in the right corner, and it was third time lucky for Steenson with the extras from the touchline.
And two more tries either side of half-time sealed the bonus point and put the Chiefs in a commanding position.
First Slade got the better of Christian Wade with a break down the left, showing outside but delivering the ball on a plate for Woodburn inside him to score, before replacement Shaun Malton scored his first Premiership try on the hour mark.
Nothing was going Wasps' way with the usually metronomic Gopperth missing a penalty from in front of the posts, but Josh Bassett did give them a sniff with a try after Joe Simpson broke clear.
But a professional job from the Chiefs in the closing stages saw out the win, their third league triumph in a row moving them top of the table.
For Exeter Chiefs:
Tries: Woodburn 2, Dennis, Armand, Malton
Cons: Steenson 3
Tries: Johnson, Bassett
Cons: Gopperth 2
Exeter Chiefs: 15 Lachie Turner, 14 Jack Nowell, 13 Henry Slade, 12 Ian Whitten, 11 Olly Woodburn, 10 Gareth Steenson (captain), 9 Nic White, 8 Sam Simmonds, 7 Don Armand, 6 Dave Dennis, 5 Sam Skinner, 4 Mitch Lees, 3 Harry Williams, 2 Elvis Taione, 1 Carl Rimmer.
Replacements: 16 Shaun Malton, 17 Ben Moon, 18 Tomas Francis, 19 Toby Salmon, 20 Julian Salvi, 21 Stuart Townsend, 22 Tom Hendrickson, 23 Max Bodilly.
Wasps: 15 Rob Miller, 14 Christian Wade, 13 Elliot Daly, 12 Juan De Jongh, 11 Josh Bassett, 10 Jimmy Gopperth, 9 Joe Simpson, 8 Nathan Hughes, 7 James Haskell, 6 Ashley Johnson, 5 Matt Symons, 4 Joe Launchbury (captain), 3 Jake Cooper-Woolley, 2 Tom Cruse, 1 Matt Mullan.
Replacements: 16 Jack Willis, 17 Simon McIntyre, 18 Marty Moore, 19 Will Rowlands, 20 Thomas Young, 21 Craig Hampson, 22 Brendan Macken, 23 Marcus Watson.
Referee: JP Doyle
Assistant referees: Christophe Ridley, Simon McConnell
TMO: Graham Hughes
London Irish 25-40 Northampton Saints
Jim Mallinder's side streaked into the lead in style, with tries from Nic Groom, Rob Horne's classy double, and one for Mikey Haywood.
Alex Lewington lit up the second half with his scorching try but George North was able to saunter over to peg the hosts back once again.
Tommy Bell retaliated to threaten a fightback, but Jacobus Reinach's late score was enough to secure Saints' first Premiership away win in four attempts, despite Josh McNally’s consolation.
Northampton set out their stall early on in the match with a sweeping move that saw North break down the right before the ball found its way to Groom for an easy run-in.
Five minutes later it was Horne's turn to go over, the Australian collected the ball in the Exiles half and scythed his way through the defence to score under the posts.
Tommy Bell got a penalty back but then Horne scored an even better try, handing off Franco van der Merwe and bulldozing his way over James Marshall to complete his double.
The bonus point was secured after just 32 minutes, with Haywood rumbling over with the Saints pack in tow.
After the interval Lewington responded with a fine individual effort, beating Horne with an outside break and somehow scrambling through the defence to cross the whitewash.
Minutes later North strolled in for Saints’ fifth try, but at the other end Blair Cowan through a wonderful looping pass to give Bell this easiest try of the afternoon.
The Exiles battered away at the Northampton defence but the Saints stood stall, Reinach streaked away for the visitors' sixth try, making McNally’s late effort a consolation.
For London Irish:
Tries: Lewington, Bell, McNally
Cons: Bell, Tonks
Pens: Bell 2
For Northampton Saints:
Tries: Groom, Horne 2, Haywood, North, Reinach
Cons: Mallinder 5
London Irish: 15 Tommy Bell, 14 Alex Lewington, 13 Aseli Tikoirotuma, 12 Johnny Williams, 11 Napolioni Nalaga, 10 James Marshall, 9 Brendan McKibbin, 8 Blair Cowan, 7 Conor Gilsenan, 6 Josh McNally, 5 Sebastian De Chaves, 4 Franco van der Merwe, 3 Petrus Du Plessis, 2 Dave Porecki, 1 Ben Franks (captain).
Replacements: 16 David Paice, 17 Harry Elrington, 18 Ollie Hoskins, 19 Teofilo Paulo, 20 Jake Schatz, 21 Scott Steele, 22 Greig Tonks, 23 Topsy Ojo.
Northampton Saints: 15 Ahsee Tuala, 14 George North, 13 Rob Horne, 12 Luther Burrell, 11 Tom Collins, 10 Harry Mallinder, 9 Nic Groom, 8 Sam Dickinson, 7 Jamie Gibson, 6 Courtney Lawes (captain), 5 David Ribbans, 4 Michael Paterson, 3 Paul Hill, 2 Mikey Haywood, 1 Alex Waller.
Replacements: 16 Reece Marshall, 17 Campese Ma’afu, 18 Kieran Brookes, 19 Christian Day, 20 Ben Nutley, 21 Cobus Reinach, 22 James Grayson, 23 Ben Foden.
Referee: Luke Pearce
Assistant referees: Jack Makep
TMO: Sean Davey