PREVIEW: WASPS v EXETER CHIEFS
PREMIERSHIP FINAL: Wasps and Exeter Chiefs set up a scintillating Final after dramatic wins against Leicester Tigers and Saracens, respectively.
Both sides reached the Twickenham showpiece thanks to late tries in their semifinals – Sam Simmonds went over with the final play for Chiefs against Saracens, while Josh Bassett crossed at the death to see off Leicester Tigers.
Wasps finished the Premiership Rugby season top of the table but hooker Ashley Johnson believes they will be underdogs against Exeter Chiefs on Saturday.
This is the third meeting between the two sides this season and a seventh in the last two campaigns for Wasps – whose Premiership Rugby challenge was ended at Sandy Park a year ago.
Wasps will get their chance to earn some revenge this weekend, but Johnson is only too aware of the threat posed by Exeter – who have gone unbeaten in their last 16 league games.
"Exeter are on a great run and we have great respect for the way they went about their job. We are definitely the underdogs going into the game," Johnson said.
"We have played them a lot recently, last year we beat them just at the Ricoh in Europe, then they beat us in the semifinal.
"They know their strengths and I think we know how they want to play.
"Exeter played in the final last year so their whole squad knows the feeling of disappointment from that and will want to get one up on us.
"We have to go out and think it’s 80 minutes so we have to enjoy the occasion,"
Players to watch would be Wasps' powerful No.8 Nathan Hughes who was perhaps the most influential – as he racked up 23 carries in the match, more than any other Wasps player this season.
The England international also carried for 84 metres – the third highest of all players across the semifinals, trailing only Leicester Tigers fullback Telusa Veainu and Exeter Chiefs powerhouse Thomas Waldrom.
But with ball-in-hand, nobody could beat Premiership Rugby Player of the Year Jimmy Gopperth.
His accuracy from the kicking tee will make him vital on Saturday, as Wasps hope to stop the in-form Chiefs – who are bidding to equal Leicester Tigers’ Premiership Rugby record of 17 matches unbeaten.
Exeter Chiefs were beaten 20-28 in last year’s showpiece at Twickenham by Saracens, Rob Baxter’s side would hope that they squashed their past demons especially after they got revenge by beating the European Champions Cup winners 18-16 at Sandy Park last Saturday.
Baxter’s Chiefs side have not lost a Premiership Rugby clash since their 29-15 reverse against Harlequins on November 5.
However, they fell to a defeat in another final earlier this year, having being downed 12-16 by Leicester in the Anglo-Welsh Cup showpiece at Twickenham Stoop on March 19.
Exeter’s versatile England back Henry Slade -who has the opportunity to enhance his prospects of starting an upcoming Test in South America - said the confidence gained from this run in the league has Chiefs believing they can take to the field confident of victory regardless of the occasion.
Slade insists: "Our mindset is totally different this year. Twelve months ago it was our first Final and we were just happy to be there and make a real game of it. Now we go to Twickenham desperate to win, and knowing we have to in order to show we are a better, improved team.
"We’ve established ourselves as one of the Premiership's top teams, and with that comes the expectation and pressure to win trophies. The fans will want to see us lifting the trophy at the end of the game and so the players have to deliver it.
"Once you have walked off Twickenham a loser in a Final you don’t want to do it again so soon. We can use that as added motivation."
"You never want to be down on the scoreboard, but over the last few months… I never felt like we were going to lose a game," he said.
Predictions: This is Wasps fifth appearance in the Premiership Rugby Final, winning all four previous attempts, in 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2008. Wasps have actually won the last ten finals they have contested in all tournaments since Saracens beat them at Twickenham in the Tetley’s Bitter Cup in 1998. Wasps only defeat in their last eight Premiership Rugby fixtures was 13-32 at Harlequins on April 28. Exeter Chiefs have reached their second successive Premiership Final, going down 20-28 to Saracens at this stage last year. The Chiefs have lost their last three final appearances in all tournaments since beating Northampton Saints 15-8 in the final of the Anglo-Welsh Cup at Sandy Park in 2014. Exeter are unbeaten in their last sixteen Premiership Rugby matches and another victory would tie Leicester’s all-time record in the competition set between 1999 and 2000. The Chiefs have visited Twickenham on six previous occasions and have yet to record a victory. The two clubs have met on three occasions this season with Wasps winning in round 1 of Premiership Rugby at the Ricoh Arena, Exeter Chiefs winning at Sandy Park in the Anglo Welsh Cup and the two clubs drawing 35-all at Sandy Park in Premiership Rugby in February. It is really a difficult one to call, both teams attack have been outstanding, but with Gopperth in their armour Wasps will edge it by three points.
Wasps: 15 Willie Le Roux, 14 Christian Wade, 13 Elliot Daly, 12 Jimmy Gopperth, 11 Josh Bassett, 10 Danny Cipriani, 9 Dan Robson, 8 Nathan Hughes, 7 Thomas Young, 6 James Haskell, 5 Matt Symons, 4 Joe Launchbury (captain), 3 Phil Swainston, 2 Tommy Taylor, 1 Matt Mullan
Replacements: 16 Ashley Johnson, 17 Simon McIntyre, 18 Marty Moore, 19 Kearnan Myall, 20 Guy Thompson, 21 Joe Simpson, 22 Alapati Leiua, 23 Frank Halai
Exeter Chiefs: 15 Phil Dollman, 14 Jack Nowell, 13 Ian Whitten, 12 Ollie Devoto, 11 Olly Woodburn, 10 Gareth Steenson (captain), 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
Date: Saturday, May 27
Venue: Twickenham Stadium, London
Kick-off: 14.30 (13.30 GMT)
Expected weather: Partly cloudly with a high of 24°C and a low of 12°C. There will also be a moderate breeze.
Referee: JP Doyle
Assistant Referees: Matthew Carley, Luke Pearce
TMO: Rowan Kitt