|Our rugby scribe takes a look at the second Aviva Premiership semi-final between Exeter & Wasps.|
Exeter Chiefs v London Wasps | Saturday 21 May | Sandy Park | 16:15 CAT
The second Aviva Premiership semi-final kicks off at quarter past four this Saturday but unfortunately it won’t be televised live in SA (scheduled to be shown at 22:30 on SS1). Nevertheless, there’s still some money to be made from this game and I for one won’t be missing out due to something as trivial as it not being televised live.
So who will come out on top between the Exeter Chiefs and Wasps? Let’s see if we can find out.
To Win (80 Mins)
Exeter 5/10 | Draw 18/1 | Wasps 31/20
It’s been a fantastic year for the men from Exeter. Not only did they make it through to the European Rugby Champions Cup quarter-finals – where in a twist of irony, they lost to this weekend’s opponents – but they’ve also managed to secure a place in the Aviva Premiership semi-finals.
While making it to the knockout phases of a tournament isn’t the greatest achievement in the world when you look at it with a bit of perspective, it makes the men from Exeter’s achievements all the more impressive. The Chiefs were only promoted to the first tier of English rugby back in 2009. They’ve had some decent league finishes since said promotion; finishing fifth in 2011 and managing an eight place finish in their debut season back in 2010.
This year has been a massive improvement on those two mid-table finishes however, with the Chiefs finishing the regular season in second place; two points ahead of this weekend’s opponents. They also managed to win 17 of their 22 round-robin fixtures while racking up a points differential of positive 224, which was the best differential of any side in the Premiership.
Key to Chiefs' amazing run to the semi-finals has been their perfectly balanced loose trio which features giant number eight Thomas Waldrom, and workaholic flankers Don Armand and Julian Salvi. The trio have been in all-conquering form this season but face a stern test from the Wasps back row that contains wily Australian veteran George Smith.
Another facet of the Chiefs game that has really impressed me is their centre pairing. Sam Hill and Henry Slade have a brilliant understanding. Both players are also well rounded, flourishing on both attack and defence. The duo will be in for a hell of a test this week however, as they will be tasked with stopping Wasps talisman and former Auckland Blue Charles Pitau.
Chiefs only know one way to play, and that way is to get the forwards in the game as much as possible. Their burly ball carriers, Thomas Waldrom, Don Armand, Luke Cowan-Dickie, and Mitch Lees, will look to truck the ball up through the phases before scrumhalf will Chudley looks to get his backs in the game.
The Aviva Premiership's most exciting team will be looking to prove that you can still play attractive rugby and win a European league. Having bombed out at the semi-final stage of the European Rugby Champions Cup, the men from London will be looking to prove a point this Saturday.
They’ve had a mesmerizing domestic campaign, racking up some huge wins on their way to the semis including a 64-23 victory over eventual table-toppers Saracens. Their free-flowing brand of rugby has been a joy to watch.
Key to their attacking game plan has been their trio of New Zealand imports, the brothers Pitau and Frank Halai. These men have the ability to turn a game on its head with their mesmerizing skill sets and their ingenious rugby brains. If the Exeter backs afford any of these men space this weekend then they will certainly be punished.
While the aforementioned backs have grabbed the headlines, the hard work and grit of flanker George Smith has been just as vital to the Wasps' cause. The former Wallaby stalwart is still up to his old tricks despite being in his mid-thirties. His ability to make a nuisance of himself at the breakdown will be crucial this week as Exeter posses one of the most well-rounded back rows in all of Europe.
The Stats That Matter
The two sides have gone head to head twice this season with Exeter winning both games by margins in excess of 13 points. Both sides topped the round robin try-scoring stakes, scoring 71 tries a piece. Exeter conceded two tries fewer than their opponents during the round robin phase.
Exeter flyhalf Gareth Steenson has ended the regular season as the Premiership’s top points scorer converting 87 penalties and conversions while Wasps ten Jimmy Gopperth finished second converting 66 penalties and conversions.
Verdict: Wasps 31/20
They may not be favourites with the bookies but my money is on Wasps upsetting the odds this weekend. They’ve got a great side packed with game changers.