Aviva Premiership: Exeter Chiefs v London Wasps

Exeter Chiefs v London Wasps | Sunday 01 May | Sandy Park | 14:00

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With only two rounds remaining until the Aviva Premiership reaches its semi-final stage there’s a lot riding on this weekend’s fixtures. The most paramount of which is a clash between the second-placed London Wasps and the third-placed Exeter Chiefs.

This fixture promises to be an epic clash of styles with the Chiefs playing a classic brand of European rugby and the London Wasps implementing a more Southern Hemisphere-esque style of play.

To Win (80 Mins)
Exeter | Draw | Wasps
Exeter | Wasps

The 2015-16 season will go down in Exeter folklore, not only did Rob Baxter’s men give a magnificent account of themselves in their debut season in the European Champions Cup, where they made it to the quarter-finals before being knocked out by this weekend’s opponents, but they have also enjoyed their best domestic campaign in recent history.

The Chiefs achievement’s this term are made all the more remarkable when you consider they only gained promotion to the Premiership in 2009. It could get even better for the men from Exeter if they manage to turn Wasps over this weekend as a victory here would greatly strengthen their bid for an Aviva Premiership home semi-final berth.

If they are to win this one, they’re going to need their fantastic forward pack to lead from the front.
Their front row of Ben Moon, Luke Cowan-Dickie, and Harry Williams have come on in leaps and bounds this term while their incumbent locks, Mitch Lees and Geoff Parling, have been talismanic at line-out time.

Despite possesing a formidable engine room, the Chiefs biggest strength is undoubtedly their backrow. Former Canterbury Crusader Thomas Waldrom has been an absolute juggernaut. The beast of a number eight has a try scoring strike rate that most wingers struggle to rival. The big man has scored 13 tries in the Premiership this term. His hard running and ability to control the ball at both the tail of the scrum and rolling maul will be crucial to Exeter’s chances this weekend.

His fellow loosies are also going to have an integral role to play. Zimbabwean-born flanker, Don Armand, has been a nuisance at ruck time. His never say die attitude and blatant disregard for his own well-being see him come out in most physical duels.

While Armand has been reveling in his role as a breakdown pillager, Julian Salvi has made his task all the more easier. Salvi is noted for his ability at the breakdown, but it’s been his ball carrying and link up play that have impressed me the most. The former ACT Brumbie has been the key link between the forwards and backs this term.

While Exeter’s forwards are the heart and soul of this side, it would be remiss of me to not mention some of their classy backs. Youngster Henry Slade has been a class above this season. His hard running and long range goal kicking will be pivotal against Wasps.

Another ‘skinny’ who’s been in devastating nick is winger Jack Nowell. The flying Englishman has missed a huge chunk of the season through injury but has still managed to score three tries in nine outings. If given an inch, Nowell is likely to take a mile.

Like the Chiefs, Wasps have enjoyed a solid showing this term. Dai Young’s men have charged their way up the Aviva Premiership standings since the turn of the year, as well as making it through to the semi-finals of the European Rugby Champions Cup.

While their European journey came to an abrupt halt this past Sunday, when they went down to Saracens by 24 points to 17, the hunt for an elusive Aviva Premiership title is still on for the London-based club.

Their quest for the coveted trophy would be hugely enhanced by a victory this weekend as it would all but assure a home semi-final for the Wasps. They have every chance of achieving this too, as they are, by far and away, the best-attacking team in this year’s competition.

Key to Wasps attacking prowess has been their New Zealand trio of the brothers Piatau, and Frank Halai. The skill sets that these three players posses are miles above the standard European colleagues and rivals.

Their combination play has also seen Wasps become the most devastating counter-attacking team in the whole of Europe. And with Exter ten Gareth Steenson likely to kick a lot of ball down field, the aforementioned trio could be in for a field day at Sandy Park.

It’s not only the Wasps backs that have stolen the headlines this year, former Wallaby flanker George Smith has been in fine fettle as well. The once dreadlocked flanker will have a crucial role to play this Sunday as his side are coming up against one of the finest back three combinations on European shores.

Another man who’s enjoyed a brilliant season is former Free Sate Cheetah Ashley Johnson. While most South African fans will remember Johnson as a heavyweight loosie, he has starred as a hooker for Wasps. The former Paarl Gim skipper may not be a regular starter for his English club, but he does make a massive impact off the bench as was evident when he came on during the final 20-minutes against Saracens last Sunday.

The Stats That Matter
Onto those statistical quirks that fascinate us punters now.

The first stat I like taking a look at, is how these teams have fared when they’ve gone head to head this term. The two sides have locked horns twice, once in Europe and once in the Aviva Premiership. The Aviva Premiership fixture saw Exeter run out 41-27 while the European tie saw Wasps squeak a one point win at the Ricoh Arena.

In terms of the points for and against stakes, Wasps have scored  an incredible 557 points in their 20 Premiership outings while Exeter have managed 499. On the defensive side of the game, Wasps have conceded 361 points while Exeter fair slightly better having only let in 334.

Both side’s incumbent goal kickers are currently duking it out for the Citizen Golden Boot accolade. Exeter’s general in Chief, Gareth Steenson, currently leads the race having accrued a mammoth 198 points. He’s followed by Wasp’s pivot Jimmy Gopperth who currently has 198 points to his name.

Both sides come into this one off the back of defeats, with Exter going down by 16-9 to Gloucester a fortnight ago, while Wasps went down by seven points to 'Saries last Sunday

Verdict: Wasps
I expect we'll see a determined Wasps side take to the field this Sunday. While their European Rugby Champions Cup exit would have hurt, I can see it acting as a motivational tool rather than a hindrance this weekend. Back the brothers Piatua and Co to seal a home semi-final for Wasps.

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Written by Darry Worthington for @Hollywoodbets

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