Exeter Chiefs v London Irish Premiership Preview

Exeter Chiefs host Gloucester at Sandy Park

Exeter Chiefs head coach Rob Baxter has named England international Henry Slade in his team for this week’s Aviva Premiership match against London Irish.

Slade is one of three changes the Chiefs have made to their starting XV. He returns in the centre alongside Ian Whitten, whilst England colleague Jack Nowell is also back and is given a role on the wing at the expense of Matt Jess.

Up front, Tomas Francis – fresh from World Cup duty with Wales – is drafted straight back into the fold at tight-head, whilst there is a first inclusion on the bench for England and British Lions lock, Geoff Parling, who joined the Chiefs this summer from Leicester Tigers.

Such talent and experience coming back into the fray shows the options now available to Baxter, who said little needed to be tweaked in regards to the game plan, despite last weekend’s setback against local rivals Bath.

“If you are aiming to be one of the top sides in the Premiership, then when you look, historically, there has been some real ding-dong battles home and away amongst those top teams in the Premiership,” continued Baxter. “Often, games will go one way or the other by one score.

“It certainly shouldn’t define your season, it really shouldn’t, but that’s the way we have to look at it. To be within one score of Bath away from home was our best performance there by far, we have picked up the losing bonus point, so we are not disappointed with our overall performance, just one or two areas.”

But like the Chiefs, tomorrow’s visitors will be equally determined to get their own season up and running having come unstuck at home to Leicester Tigers last Sunday.

Under the guidance of new head coach Tom Coventry, the Exiles showed back in January that they have the personnel in place to shock the Chiefs. On that occasion Shane Geraghty’s last-gasp drop-goal ensured them of a 28-26 success at the Madejski Stadium

Like the Chiefs, they will be boosted by the return of key back-row forward Blair Cowan following his exertions with Scotland, whilst a splattering of new recruits means they will offer new challenges to the Westcountry outfit.

“The players are aware and we probably felt quite frustrated with the way we lost the game up at London Irish, but I thought fair play to them, I couldn’t complain with the result on the day,” recalled Baxter, who will also include former Exiles player James Short on the left wing and skipper Gareth Steenson at fly-half on his 150th league appearance for the club.

Exeter Chiefs tripped up 17-19 at Bath on Saturday and have never begun an Aviva Premiership Rugby campaign with a pair of defeats in rounds 1 and 2.

The Chiefs single defeat at Sandy Park in the tournament in their last ten fixtures was 25-26 to Gloucester on 3rd January.

London Irish are winless in their last four Aviva Premiership Rugby fixtures but did at least draw 40-all with Wasps at Madejski Stadium in round 22.

The Exiles only victory on the road in the tournament since round 4 last season came at London Welsh on 28th February.

Each side won its respective home game when the two clubs met last season whilst the Exiles only previous victory at Sandy Park came on their very first visit in October 2010.

London Irish head coach Tom Coventry has wasted no time in including his Scotland Blair Cowan and Sean Maitland in his squad for this weekend.

The starting XV sees two changes to the side that lost out to Leicester last week. Tom Smallbone comes in for Tom Court at loosehead prop alongside David Paice and Halani Aulika in the front row.

The back five remained unchanged, with Captain George Skivington and Matt Symons in the second row with Jebb Sinclair, Luke Narraway and Rob McCusker making up the back row.

Brendan McKibbin and Chris Noakes link up once more at scrum half and fly half respectively, with Eoin Griffin and Tom Fowlie named in the midfield.

The other change comes in the back row, with Fijian international Aseli Tikoirotuma starting on the wing, with Topsy Ojo moving to full back and Alex Lewington named on the other wing.

London Irish Head Coach, Tom Coventry, said: “We have welcomed a number of players into the group this week who have been away on World Cup duty and this gives us a chance add their experience into our squad. The players have trained hard and worked on elements of our game that we were disappointed with against Leicester. Exeter are a top side and we are looking forward to the challenge.”

Match : Exeter Chiefs v London Irish
Date : Saturday 24th October
Venue : Sandy Park,
Kick Off : 6pm
Live on: N.A
Match Officials
Referee :Andrew Small (118th Premiership game).
Assistant Referees: Andrew Pearce & Wayne Falla.
TMO: Geoff Warren.


Exeter Chiefs

15 Phil Dollman , 14 Jack Nowell , 13 Henry Slade , 12 Ian Whitten , 11 James Short , 10 Gareth Steenson (capt) , 9 Will Chudley , 1 Ben Moon , 2 Luke Cowan-Dickie , 3 Tomas Francis , 4 Mitch Lees , 5 Damian Welch , 6 Dave Ewers , 7 Don Armand , 8 Thomas Waldrom

Replacements : 16 Jack Yeandle , 17 Alec Hepburn , 18 Moray Low , 19 Geoff Parling , 20 Julian Salvi , 21 Dave Lewis , 22 Sam Hill , 23 Olly Woodburn

London Irish

15. Topsy Ojo , 14. Alex Lewington; 13. Tom Fowlie; 12. Eoin Griffin; 11. Aseli Tikoirotuma , 10. Chris Noakes; 9. Brendan McKibbin; 1. Tom Smallbone; 2. David Paice , 3. Halani Aulika , 4. George Skivington (Captain); 5. Matt Symons; 6. Jebb Sinclair , 7. Luke Narraway , 8. Rob McCusker*

Replacements: 16. Gerard Ellis; 17. Tom Court , 18. Leo Halavatau; 19. Eoin Sheriff; 20. Blair Cowan , 21. Scott Steele; 22. Shane Geraghty , 23. Sean Maitland

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