Fixture: London Irish vs Exeter Chiefs
Competition: Premiership Rugby Cup, final
Date: Sunday 19th March 2023
Venue: Gtech Community Stadium
Officials: Referee: Adam Leal; Assistant Referee 1: Dan Jones; Assistant Referee 2: George Selwood; No4: Neil Chivers; TMO: Rowan Kitt; Timekeeper: John Burtenshaw; Citing Officer: Buster White; Referee Coach: Gary Welsh.
London Irish meet Exeter Chiefs in the final of the 2022/23 Premiership Rugby Cup at the Gtech Community Stadium this Sunday afternoon, with the Exiles in search of their first major silverware in 21 years.
The last title lift for the Brentford residents arrived back in 2002 with a 38-7 rout of Northampton Saints at the national stadium, a day where current Assistant coach Declan Danaher started from openside flanker.
The Exiles’ shot at cup glory follows on from an historic cup final run that saw Irish win four of their four pool stage matches, the first team to achieve maximum points since the Premiership Rugby Cup formed in 2018.
Exeter too accompanies Irish as the only unbeaten sides in this year’s competition, defeating Sale Sharks 46-3 in the knockout stage whilst Irish triumphed over Northampton Saints by a score of 30-18 at the Gtech.
The Sandy Park outfit boast the top point scorer in this year’s tournament in Wales under-20 international Iwan Jenkins (41), Exile Rory Jennings closely trailing the youngster with 39 points of his own.
Rob Baxter’s side have formed a solid recent history in top tier knockout cup tournaments since their 2010 promotion, competing in five finals between 2014 and 2018 and winning the 2013/14 LV Cup and the 2017/18 Anglo-Welsh Cup.
Chiefs stands in the way of the west Londoners in redeeming last year’s cup final reverse, which was also held at the Gtech, where Irish drew 25-all to Worcester Warriors and lost the final on less tries scored (one to three).
Since the inception of the Premiership Rugby Cup, Irish and Chiefs have not encountered each other, with their last meeting in a cup tournament coming in the fourth round of the 2000/01 Tetley’s Bitter Cup, which London Irish won 57-12.
The Boss- Rob Baxter:
Rob Baxter followed in the footsteps of his father John in joined Exeter in 1987 in his youth, playing for the Club in their days at the County Ground for 16 years, 10 of which we served as captain.
He started his coaching career as Director of Rugby at the University of Exeter, also aiding in the guidance of Exeter Chiefs' United team and then as Forwards Coach of the first team.
Baxter was promoted to the Head Coach role at the Club in 2009, leading to a first promotion from the Championship and going on to win the Premiership Rugby Director of Rugby of the Season accolade two years later.
As well as touring with the England coaching staff to Argentina, his domestic accolades whilst leading Chiefs number the Club's first piece of silverware in the 2014, the LV Cup, as well as a league and European double in 2020.
One to Watch – Rusiate Tuima:
Exeter College product Rusiate Tuima has seven tries in seven career Premiership Rugby Cup appearances, four of those coming in the 2022/23 season.
The Suva-born youngster is nephew of Fiji legend Akapusi Qera and a cousin of former Exile Joe Cokanasiga, and has been making strides as a dual-registered player with Cornish Pirates and Chiefs this year.
He bagged a brace against West Country rivals Gloucester Rugby in Round 5 of the cup, extending his excellent form with another try in the semi-final victory over Sale Sharks.
As a blindside flanker, Tuima made the most carries in the game (16) and the most metres made of any Chiefs forward (36) against Sharks at Sandy Park, also registering eight tackles, a try assist and beating six defenders.
The talented loose forward earned his first Premiership minutes of this campaign against London Irish last November, playing out the final quarter of the 22-17 Chiefs win.
22-year-old Tuima has earned 14 England under-20 caps and has aspirations to continue his international journey in the footsteps of his sister Lagi, who is a England senior women’s centre.
Classic Encounter – London Irish 39-17 Exeter Chiefs – Aviva Premiership – 26th March 2011:
For London Irish’s St. Patrick’s Party fixture 12 years ago, Premiership newbies Exeter Chiefs arrived at the Madejski Stadium for an afternoon of festivities that the Exiles came out on top in with a 39-17 win.
It took just 39 seconds for Delon Armitage to cross the whitewash and was shortly followed by a converted effort from his brother Steffon, who would score twice on the day.
Chiefs prop Chris Budgen’s own try before the break and three Gareth Steenson penalties provided some hope for the travelling party to narrow the deficit to a mere point in the second period.
James Scaysbrook’s sin-binning would prove decisive however, Irish hooker David Paice dotted down in the former’s absence with the younger Armitage completing his brace before Tom Homer added two more penalties to his record on the day.
Tries: Delon Armitage, Steffon Armitage (2), David Paice
Conversions: Tom Homer (2)
Penalties: Tom Homer (5)
Tries: Chris Budgen
Penalties: Gareth Steenson (4)
Exeter Chiefs Director of Rugby Rob Baxter examined his side's outing against Newcastle Falcons in the Gallagher Premiership at Sandy Park, where the home side took a bonus point, 24-5 victory.
"It just shows you how much of sport is such a mental challenge," Baxter said.
"I know full well if we'd have had four or five wins and we were sitting pretty in the league that game would have looked a lot different, and even if it would have become a battle like that we'd have just been pleased that it would have been job done and we move on.
"As it was, every decision that gets made, every penalty, every error that we make, feels like the end of the world almost and that can start to be a very negative process for you.
"If we really want to challenge, we've almost got to flip things on the head now and decide we're going to challenge things by upsetting other people, a bit like Newcastle are doing, they relished that first period upsetting us."