Exeter Chiefs director of rugby Rob Baxter has made changes to his Champions Cup-winning side for their Premiership Final clash with Wasps at Twickenham on Saturday.
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.
Securing the European and Premiership double would be the stuff of dreams for Baxter and the Chiefs, but the Exeter boss 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,” he said. “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.”
Meanwhile, Wasps head coach Lee Blackett has named a side that sees four changes to the starting line-up that beat Bristol Bears in the semi-final.
Tom Willis starts alongside brother Jack and Thomas Young in the back-row. In the front row Jeff Toomaga-Allen and Tom West come in to start with Tommy Taylor.
Wasps’ second-row engine room sees international duo Will Rowlands and captain Joe Launchbury link up once more.
Juan de Jongh joins Jimmy Gopperth in the centres. The rest of the backline remains the same with Dan Robson and Jacob Umaga linking up at half-back and the back-three of Josh Bassett, Zach Kibirige and Matteo Minozzi will look to excite again.
Amongst the replacements Ben Morris is the back-row cover on the bench. Joining Morris on the bench are experienced lock James Gaskell and the power-packed trio of front-row replacements Gabriel Oghre, Ben Harris and Biyi Alo.
Electric backs replacements Ben Vellacott, Lima Sopoaga and Michael Le Bourgeois will also get a chance to grace the Twickenham turf.
#EXEvWAS FINAL TEAM NEWS
— Premiership Rugby (@premrugby) October 23, 2020
Brad Shields, Kieran Brookes, Simon McIntyre and Alfie Barbeary are unavailable after being ruled out due to contact tracing protocols. Malakai Fekitoa misses out through a groin injury picked up against the Bears.
“If we are all being honest, it hasn’t been ideal preparation, but I have to give credit to the players because they have coped with it admirably,” said Blackett.
“A lot of credit must also go to the staff, especially Team Manager Dave Bassett, Head of Medical Ali James and Club Doctor Ralph Mitchell. The amount of work that they have put in behind the scenes to allow us to play in this game is phenomenal.
“It has been a difficult week in terms of all of that, but the one thing that we spoke about at the start of the season is being adaptable. Now the players will do everything they can to put in a performance on Saturday. We know it will be tough, Exeter deservedly finished top of the league this season, but we are confident with the form that we can take into the game.”
Exeter Chiefs: 15 Stuart Hogg, 14 Jack Nowell, 13 Henry Slade, 12 Ollie Devoto, 11 Olly Woodburn, 10 Joe Simmonds (c), 9 Jack Maunder, 8 Sam Simmonds, 7 Jannes Kirsten, 6 Dave Ewers, 5 Jonny Hill, 4 Sam Skinner, 3 Harry Williams, 2 Luke Cowan-Dickie, 1 Alec Hepburn
Replacements: 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
Wasps: 15 Matteo Minozzi, 14 Zach Kibirige, 13 Juan de Jongh, 12 Jimmy Gopperth, 11 Josh Bassett, 10 Jacob Umaga, 9 Dan Robson, 8 Tom Willis, 7 Thomas Young, 6 Jack Willis, 5 Will Rowlands, 4 Joe Launchbury (c), 3 Jeff Toomaga-Allen, 2 Tommy Taylor, 1 Tom West
Replacements: 16 Gabriel Oghre, 17 Ben Harris, 18 Biyi Alo, 19 James Gaskell, 20 Ben Morris, 21 Ben Vellacott, 22 Lima Sopoaga, 23 Michael Le Bourgeois
Referee: Craig Maxwell-Keys
Assistant Referees: TBC
TMO: Rowan Kitt
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