Premiership semifinal a sneak preview of brutality expected in B&I Lions series
OPINION: When Exeter Chiefs host Sale Sharks at Sandy Park in the Premiership semifinal on Saturday, it will provide a sneak preview of just how brutal the Tests series between the Springboks and the British and Irish Lions could be.
A glance at the two teams’ encounter this past weekend – a come-from-behind 20-19 win for the defending-champion Chiefs – is already a good indicator of what’s to come on Saturday.
With four members of the B&I Lions squad in the Exeter line-up and four Bok squad members running out for Sale, there certainly was not a lack of ‘feeling’ in a game that saw the Chiefs book home ground advantage for the play-off rerun.
Scotland fullback Stuart Hogg, along with forwards Luke Cowan-Dickie, Jonny Hill and Sam Simmonds are the Exeter Chiefs players that will travel with the B&I Lions to South Africa next month.
Ironically Sale Sharks captain Tom Curry is also a member of the Lions tour squad.
He will again have the Bok quartet of Coenie Oosthuizen, Dan and Jean-Luc du Preez, as well as Francois de Klerk in his Sale Sharks team this week.
It made for a galvanic match this past weekend and is likely to have the same intensity and physicality in the semifinal.
One of the most significant moments from this past weekend – which will reverberate in the build-up to the semifinal – was the Sam Skinner red card in 54th minute.
The Chiefs lock will face a disciplinary hearing after his high shot on the World Cup-winning Bok scrumhalf, De Klerk.
* (Article continues below video … De Klerk incident just after two minutes 30 seconds on video)
There were also two yellow cards – Dave Ewers (Exeter Chiefs) in the 34th minute and Ben Curry (Sale Sharks) in the 65th minute.
Referee Karl Dickson had little doubt about sending Skinner for an early shower.
Explaining to Skinner the reason for the red card, Dickson told the offending player: “So we have got direct contact to the head. It’s a high degree of force and there is no mitigation, so it is going to be a red card.”
No doubt the coaches will downplay the past weekend’s events.
However, given the profile of the players in the Sandy Park showdown – and their roles in the Test series in July – Saturday’s game will no doubt have undertones of a brutal Test match.