Exeter Chiefs v Saracens | Sunday 7 January | Sandy Park | 15:00
A fantastic game of rugby is in store this coming Sunday with the second-placed Exeter Chiefs hosting the top of the table Saracens at Sandy Park. With only two points separating the sides, this top of the table clash could have a huge bearing on who finishes the round robin phase of the Premiership in pole position.
To Win (80 Mins)
This is the time of the year that Exeter generally come into their own. The main reason for this is that they tend not to lose too many players to national call-ups. This year is no different as only winger Jack Nowell will be unavailable for the game against Saracens due to national commitments.
I really do fancy this almost full strength Exeter side to upset Saries this weekend. Well actually, when you look at the matchday 23’s, you can’t really give Exeter the underdog status, can you? I mean, they’re only missing one of their first XV while their opponents are missing five of their stalwarts. They also were a lot more impressive last weekend in their 15 point victory over the Worcester Warriors than Saracens were against Bath.
They got off to a flyer last weekend with winger James Short scoring a try only two minutes into the game. Ian Whitten added another on the 28-minute mark while second half tries from man mountain Tom Waldrom and South African flanker Don Armand secured their bonus point.
Speaking of Waldrom and Armand, the duo are starting to form a rather nice partnership. They’re completely different rugby players but their contrasts complement each other. They will look to dominate the breakdown this weekend along with fellow loosie Julian Savi.
We saw the best and worst of Saries last week. The Wolf Pack came back from a dreadful first half display, that saw them go into the half time break 14 points down, to win their last fixture against Bath.
Mark McCall’s men were dire in the first stanza last weekend. Their forward pack struggled to compete with a rejuvenated Bath scrum and their backs were as imaginative on attack as Chelsea football club under Jose Mourinho. Both their backs and forwards improved dramatically in the second stanza. A fine kicking display from backup pivot Charlie Hodgson, who came into the squad for the absent Owen Farrell, helped Saries claw their way back into the game. Hodgson’s deadly accurate right foot had brought his side back to within eight points of Bath.
A 70th-minute try courtesy of Springbok Schalk Britz was converted by Hodgson to put Saries within a penalty of winning the game. Hodgson would slot two further penalties during the final ten minutes of the game to hand his side a 19-13 victory.
Saries can’t afford to start slowly this weekend. Their opponents will be going all out to overhaul them on the log and make no mistake about it, Exeter will be giving it 110 percent from the kickoff. The Wolf Pack will also have to take on the Chiefs without some of their stalwarts who are away with the English national team. Maro Itoje, Jamie George, George Kruis, Mako and Billy Vunipola, as well as Owen Farrell, will all miss this weekend’s game due to national commitments.
With the core of the side away on national duty, Saracens depth is really going tested this Sunday. They have some quality players who still remain with the squad, though. Schalk Britz and veteran pivot Charlie Hodgson are two such players. Their wealth of experience and ability to marshall their fellow players on attack and defence will be vital to the Chiefs cause this weekend.
Verdict: Exeter 5/10
With Saracens' stalwarts away on national duty, my money is firmly on the Exeter camp this weekend. Back them to claim the spoils at 5/10.
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