Fixture: London Irish vs Exeter Chiefs
Competition: Gallagher Premiership, Round 24
Date: Saturday 6th May 2023
Venue: Gtech Community Stadium
Officials: Referee: Luke Pearce; Assistant Referee 1: Craig Maxwell-Keys; Assistant Referee 2: Wayne Falla; No4: Jonathan Cook; TMO: Stuart Tereheege; Timekeeper: Roy Marfleet; Citing Officer: Chris Catling.
The final round of the season is upon Gallagher Premiership Clubs as London Irish ready themselves to face-off against Exeter Chiefs at the Gtech Community Stadium.
Having emerged victors in three of their last four league outings, it was in their last game that Declan Kidney’s Exiles tasted defeat (45-21) when challenging rivals Saracens in north London.
They return to home comforts this Saturday to close out a memorable 2022/23 season, having lost on just two occasions (vs. Gloucester Rugby, Leicester Tigers) in the Gallagher Premiership at the Gtech.
Conversely, Chiefs concluded a run of two losses with a 22-21, West Country derby win over Bristol Bears at Sandy Park and will look to close a stretch of seven away league defeats this weekend.
Whilst bragging rights and the Premiership Rugby Cup trophy went home with Rob Baxter’s men on their last trip to Brentford, in the Premiership arena the last six contests between Irish and Chiefs have been an even split of wins.
Exeter this season have conceded more penalties than any other team (267), an average of 13.4 per 80 minutes with 120 of these at the ruck and 80 at the scrum.
However, Irish will have to be prepared for a physical and pacy match-up as Chiefs average the most contact metres (146.7) in the Premiership, with the most tries from tap penalties also (10).
Back-row forwards So’otala Fa’aso’o and Tom Pearson dotted down in the 22-17 reverse fixture loss in November, the latter of whom currently second in tackles made across the league (227, 94% success rate).
Clubmates Paddy Jackson and Benhard Janse van Rensburg lead the league in points scored (203) and minutes played (1,509) in the Gallagher Premiership this term respectively, whilst Saturday’s opponent Olly Woodburn has made more metres than any other player in the Premiership (1,187).
Despite a postseason berth being unattainable for either side, a fierce contest is expected with one league place and four points separating fifth-placed Irish and their Premiership contemporaries.
The Boss – Rob Baxter:
Rob Baxter’s connections with Exeter go back to 1987 when he joined the Club as a colt, the Tavistock native following in the footsteps of his father John before going on to play 300 times for the Club and being captain for a decade.
Beginning his time as a coach as Director of Rugby at the University of Exeter, Baxter soon re-joined Chiefs with the United team and then as Forwards Coach.
He became Head Coach in 2009 and spearheaded the Club’s first promotion charge to the top flight, winning the Premiership Rugby Director of Rugby accolade two years later before aiding in the England coaching set-up in their 2014 summer tour of Argentina.
The Club’s first piece of major silverware, the 2013/14 LV Cup, arrived under the 52-year-old’s stewardship with league and European success following in the years, namely a 2020 Premiership and Champions Cup double.
One to Watch – Immanuel Feyi-Waboso
Young flyer Immanuel Feyi-Waboso made his Club debut for Chiefs last November against Gloucester Rugby in the Premiership Rugby Cup, after being an unused substitute against London Irish in the Premiership two weeks before.
At just 19-years-old, Feyi-Waboso has already played at three Clubs after progressing through the Cardiff Blues pathway to make his debut against Ospreys in the 2020/21 Rainbow Cup.
After joining Wasps’ Senior Academy 13 months ago to combine with his studies at Aston University, the former Wales under-18s representative was swooped up by Chiefs following the former’s administration.
The talented back has scored twice in three cup appearances for Exeter this term, including in the 46-3 semi-final win over Sale Sharks, where he beat a match-high 10 defenders and made 97 metres from six carries.
Whilst he missed out on selection for the cup final through injury, Feyi-Waboso will earn a first Premiership start for Chiefs against Irish.
Classic Encounter – London Irish 28-26 Exeter Chiefs – 1st November 2015 – Aviva Premiership:
Shane Geraghty’s last minute drop goal ensured his London Irish grabbed a bonus point victory to Exeter Chiefs at the Madejski Stadium.
Blair Cowan was the man to break the deadlock from the base of a rolling maul, but Gareth Steenson’s boot as well as a Dean Mumm score put their side’s noses in front just before the break.
When returning from the sheds, Irish assumed control with three crucial tries via Alex Lewington, Tom Guest and Cowan once more, but Chiefs came again with five more points each from Dave Ewers and Steenson.
With the visitors trailing by two, Steenson added three more to his tally of 14 with his fourth successful penalty attempt that was only undone by Geraghty’s 35-metre kick from hand with the clock in the red.
Tries: Blair Cowan (2), Tom Guest, Alex Lewington
Conversions: Shane Geraghty
Penalties: Tom Homer
Drop Goal: Shane Geraghty
Tries: Dean Mumm, Dave Ewers
Coversions: Gareth Steenson (2)
Penalties: Gareth Steenson (4)
Speaking earlier on in the week, Exeter Chiefs Director of Rugby Rob Baxter revealed his thoughts on his team selection for the journey to face London Irish this Saturday.
“The first meeting I had with the players, I filled them in with how we were going to select the team, just because we are going to make considerable changes for the weekend,” he said.
“I don’t mind saying, if we give selection away to London Irish nice and early, the team is going to be largely based on players who are going to be here next season.
“I think that’s the right thing to do, but the first message I put out to the players was ‘right guys, nobody is being punished here’, my job is to look ahead and move forward.
“I know there are guys who want to play this weekend because they want to play their last game for the club in the last game of the season, but in some ways - and I know the game was a loss - that game last week was a pretty fitting way for some of those guys to finish their careers with us.”
“We’re excited and ready to go,” Baxter stated as he looked ahead to the challenge of the Exiles in the final weekend of the season.
“We’ve made changes and it won’t be perfect, I know that and what I expect from our guys is an energetic, enthusiastic, never-say-die performance.
“If we can produce that, then hopefully the result takes care of itself.
“What it will also do, however, is set the foundations from which I want us to build next season.”