Trying to think of something new to say every week in the build up to a game is hard. To those that know me, that might come as a surprise since I always seem to be talking; for those that know me well, it should come as no surprise since I actually only have about 7 stories on rotation. Once you hear one for the second time, you know I’ve run out. But sometimes you can just let the facts speak for themselves, or res ipsa loquitor if I’m feeling pretentious and want to bring my vast* legal knowledge into the equation.
And Wasps v Exeter has the basic set up to not only be an epic encounter in terms of how the season will settle, but also in terms of putting on a show for what looks set to be another impressive crowd at the Ricoh Arena. The hosts are boosted by the return of Christian Wade and Nathan Hughes, two game-breakers in very different ways, and by the reuniting of their gargantuan back row unit, with Haskell and Johnson joining Hughes on the flanks. They’ve been destructive all season but, if they’re to give the likes of Wade, Daly and Leiua a chance to show what they can do in open spaces, they’ll need to compete with a Chiefs pack that is not only bang in form, but every bit as powerful as they are.
Especially in the back row. The Waldrom and Ewers double act has been irresistible at times (in terms of quality of play as opposed to aesthetics; it’s fair to say neither are lookers) and the powerful Jack Yeandle isn’t exactly dainty, so we’re all set for a titanic struggle at the breakdown. After their demolition of the Saints pack a fortnight ago as well, the visitors will be feeling that there is an opportunity to cause the hosts some problems in the set piece, an area where Wasps are traditionally not overly strong, but you can’t overlook the backline in this Exeter side – they may not have the out and out pace that Wasps have, but they do have game-breakers in the form of Henry Slade and Jack Nowell and they operate with a precision which sees them take most opportunities handed to them.
There’s no need for waffle with this one. With Chiefs in fourth spot and Wasps just 5 behind, this is playoff for the playoffs.
Wasps Team News
Wasps are boosted by the return of Christian Wade and Nathan Hughes from injury and suspension respectively as they return to the Ricoh Arena. Carlo Festuccia, Lorenzo Cittadini and Kearnan Myall all start for Wasps in their first home game since 8 March.
Starting Line-up: Masi; Wade, Daly, Leiua, Tagicakibau; Goode, Simpson; Mullan, Festuccia, Cittadini, Gaskell, Myall, Johnson, Haskell (capt), Hughes.Subs: Shervington, McIntyre, Cooper-Woolley, Cannon, Thompson, Davies, Lozowski, Miller.
Nathan Hughes. ‘If only’ is a phrase which has probably passed the lips of many a Wasps fan following their quarter final exit in Toulon, probably followed by ‘Hughes was playing’. In a game where Wasps gave such a good account of themselves against the best side in Europe, you got the feeling that the absence of their most destructive ball carrier could have made a key difference to the outcome – but now he’s back, and he’s got a point to prove. He’s up against another hard running number eight, Tom Waldrom, and he needs to make sure he breaks the advantage line at every opportunity – Wasps rely on him to kick-start their momentum in attack.
Exeter Team News
The Chiefs bring in Byron McGuigan at full-back after Phil Dollman suffered a leg injury last week. Damian Welch is fit after ankle surgery, while Luke Cowan-Dickie replaces Elvis Taione as hooker.
Starting Line-up: McGuigan; Whitten, Nowell, Hill, Jess; Slade, Chudley; Moon, Yeandle, Francis, Mumm (capt), Lees, Ewers, Horstmann, Waldrom.Subs: Cowan-Dickie, Rimmer, Brown, Welch, Johnson, Lewis, Steenson, James.
Dave Ewers. I’ve mentioned earlier that these are two massively powerful back rows, but Ewers is bang in form at the moment and can prove to be a pivotal player in this clash. He was monumental in the game against Northampton at Sandy Park and his physicality, and work-rate were streaks above anyone else on the park – including blokes on his own team. His engine is key to the Chiefs, who like to play at a fast, relentless tempo – not unlike Wasps – and the more he offers himself as a carrier, especially late in the game, the happier the visitors will be.
Elliot Daly v Jack Nowell. Out of nowhere this season, Daly has become one of the most exciting runners in the Premiership. He’s always been electrically quick and has a lethal step on him, but now he has a real confidence on the pitch and is showing an offloading game that we haven’t seen before; he now takes players on, with a mentality that is going to beat them. A player who’s shown that same confidence this year is Jack Nowell, another player who has come of age this season. He offers a slightly more physical threat than Daly but he still has a wonderfully balanced style to his running. These are two of the brightest attacking prospects in the English game and, with defence not being either player’s trump card, we could be in for a blistering battle between these two, especially as one moment of magic could decide the outcome. Expect tries.
The Chiefs have hit some form but Wasps will be confident playing in front of a home crowd again. The key battle will be in the back row, a battle which has the potential to be rather violent, but it’s out wide where some of the best attacking talent in the league will be on show. The loss of Dollman is big blow to the Chiefs – he is so solid at the back and a great attacking threat – and, with Goode at the helm, I wonder if Wasps will be able to exploit his absence. This one will go down to the wire but I’m leaning towards a home win. Wasps by 4.