Fixture: Exeter Chiefs v London Irish
Competition: Gallagher Premiership, Round 6
Date: Saturday 23rd October 2021
Stadium: Sandy Park
London Irish make the long trip to take on Exeter Chiefs at Sandy Park this Saturday, in Round 6 of the Gallagher Premiership.
The two-time champions, who are celebrating their sesquicentennial anniversary in 2021, head into the match unbeaten in their three October fixtures to date, with three victories, following back-to-back losses against Leicester Tigers and Northampton Saints in September.
New Australian second-row forward Ryan McCauley was handed his first Premiership start in Exeter’s most recent victory, a 27-23 win against Wasps, which elevated them into fourth spot in the table.
Rob Baxter’s men reached their sixth consecutive Premiership Final berth last term – a run only bettered by Leicester Tigers between 2005-13 – but ultimately faltered in a dramatic 40-38 loss to Harlequins at Twickenham.
Chiefs have recorded the most carries and defenders beaten in the Premiership so far this season with 688 and 128 respectively – and are second only to Bristol Bears in both passes (890) and metres gained (3,814).
The boss – Rob Baxter
Rob Baxter is in his twelfth season as Director of Rugby with the Chiefs, having previously made 275 appearances there as a player.
The 50 year-old has overseen the meteoric rise of the Sandy Park outfit over the last decade, achieving promotion to the first tier of English rugby in his maiden season.
Chiefs have now become a regular and competitive fixture in Premiership Rugby, boasting two Premiership titles and domestic cup trophies each, alongside a first European Champions Cup won as part of an unprecedented double in 2019/20.
At the beginning of the campaign, Baxter emphasised the need to ‘put the end of last season to bed’ following on from their most recent Premiership final loss in June.
One to Watch – Henry Slade
Henry Slade is in magnificent form ahead of Saturday’s match-up at Sandy Park, accumulating the third-most points in the Premiership this year with 42 (the most of any non fly-half player).
The 28 year-old declared that the Exeter Chiefs squad is ‘in a good place’ in light of their bonus-point win at the Ricoh Arena, after subsequent opening defeats at the start of the season.
Accompanying his three tries, the centre sits in the top ten rankings of players in the league in regards to metres gained (352) and clean breaks (6), with an 80% kick success rate from the tee.
His recent inclusion in Eddie Jones’ Autumn Internationals squad is only further testament to Slade’s ethic so far this season.
Classic Encounter – London Irish 28, Exeter Chiefs 26 – January 11th 2015 – Aviva Premiership
Shane Geraghty’s last-gasp drop goal clinched a 28-26 win in favour of Irish.
Exeter Chiefs, who were condemned to their fourth successive league loss that afternoon, started the brighter of the two sides – Gareth Steenson’s accurate boot and Dean Mumm’s try giving them the lead at the break.
The Exiles nonetheless responded heartily in the half’s opening 20 minutes, with Tom Guest, Alex Lewington and Blair Cowan crossing over to leapfrog the visitors and establish a nine-point advantage.
Dave Ewers’ try preceded placed kicks from both Steenson and Tom Homer, but it was Rob Baxter’s men who held the advantage until the dying stages before Geraghty’s brave effort sealed a famous win.
Tries: Blair Cowan (2), Tom Guest, Alex Lewington
Conversions: Shane Geraghty
Penalties: Tom Homer
Drop goals: Shane Geraghty
Tries: Dean Mumm, Dave Ewers
Conversions: Gareth Steenson (2)
Penalties: Gareth Steenson (4)
Exeter Chiefs’ Head Coach Ali Hepher praised his side’s character in their 27-23 win over Wasps in Round 5 of the Gallagher Premiership.
“It may have been a bit ugly and not necessarily perfect, but we fought it out and I liked how our spirit came through to get the win,” said Hepher.
"If we’re being honest, that wasn’t there a few weeks ago, but it is now."
Two defeats to Leicester Tigers and Northampton Saints left Chiefs in the unfamiliar position of propping up the division earlh on, but they’ve been in much better form following Sam Simmonds and Stuart Hogg returning from holiday following British & Irish Lions’ duty.
“We’ve got a little bit of momentum behind us and we’re moving in the right direction,” he added.
"There are still things we need to work on and things we need to get better at, and hopefully, we will be better again next week [against London Irish].”
(Preview compiled by Ryan Fitzgerald-Nolan)