Champions Cup: Exeter Chiefs v Ospreys Preview

Written by Darry Worthington for @Hollywoodbets. Follow them both on Twitter and Facebook now!

Exeter Chiefs v Ospreys | Sunday 24 January | Sandy Park | 17:10

The Exeter Chiefs will host the Ospreys in a must-win encounter this Sunday. The Chiefs currently occupy third place in Pool 2 and have 11 points to their names while the Ospreys sit atop the group on 16 points.

With second-placed Clermont Auvergne almost guaranteed to take five points off the pool's bottom-placed side, the Bordeaux Begles, there’s a lot hinging on this game for both teams.

To Win (80 Mins)
Exeter 17/20
Draw 35/1
Ospreys 1/1

The Chiefs are going to require a Houdini-esque escape act if they are to advance to the next phase of the tournament. If they can somehow keep the Ospreys from claiming a bonus point and manage to get a four-try bonus point themselves, they would draw level with their Welsh opponents on the log. This alone would not secure their qualification, however. They also need Bordeaux to beat Clermont or every second-placed side in the other pools to drop points this weekend. While qualification is still mathematically possible, I simply can’t see either of the aforementioned scenarios playing out.

Whilst I’ve already relegated Exeter to a group stage exit, I doubt the Chiefs playing personnel and staff will feel the same way. Exeter coach, Rob Baxter has stated that he simply wants his side to maintain their proud home record and that the only way they can qualify is by winning this game. While Baxter's laid back attitude is admirable, I reckon he'll be talking about bonus points and addressing the Chiefs qualifications scenarios behind closed doors.

So according to Baxter, objective number one is to win the game. I suspect his side won’t go the conservative route in their search for victory. They know they need to win with a bonus point to keep their slim hopes of qualification alive and the only way to do this is for them to keep ball in hand.

The Chiefs will be looking to their try scoring machines, Tom Waldrom and Julian Savi, to get them a few five pointers. The duo have been in sensational form and have scored two tries apiece in the tournament.

The Welsh club head into this one well and truly in the driver's seat. They’re top of the pool and a win would guarantee that they not only progress to the quarter-finals but also host one of the quarter-finals.

While the Ospreys have played some eye-catching rugby thus far in the tournament, they’re going to have to step their game up this weekend. Their opponents have won both of their home fixtures in the tournament and have only lost to Welsh opposition once in the Champions Cup.

Daming stats, hey? Well, they get worse when you look at Ospreys away record. The Welsh club haven’t won an away fixture in the Champions Cup since 2009. Another stat that will have Ospreys fans shaking in their boots is their side’s recent record against English opposition. The Ospreys haven’t beaten an English side away from home since 2007. However, records are meant to be broken and the Ospreys certainly have the confidence to snap their unimpressive away record.

The Swansea-based club have been nothing short of brilliant this season. They’ve won three of their five group fixtures, which may not be the most impressive record when viewed in isolation, however, when you consider the gulf in quality between their playing personnel and the players who have turned out for Clermont and Exeter, their record is made all the more impressive.

One of their three victories came in the opening round against the Chiefs. The English club was in red hot form at that point in the season and were sweeping aside all comers in their domestic league. A master class from Welsh incumbent ten Dan Biggar – the robust pivot slotted five penalties, kicked a drop goal, and converted Josh Matavesi’s try  - lead the Ospreys to a memorable 25-13 victory at the Liberty Stadium.

Biggar is once again going to be the key man for the Ospreys. His ability to dictate a game will be put to the test as his side are unlikely to dominate the possession stats this weekend. He is capable of feeding off scraps, however. And if that educated boot of his is on song then he may just be able to kick his side to the next phase of the tournament.

Verdict: Exeter 17/20 
My money is on the Chiefs winning this game and turning the pool on its head in the process. 

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