Premiership, Semifinals - Teams and Predictions
BEST OF THE BEST: And now there are four. After 22 rounds of the Premiership action, we reach the semifinal stage with compelling, back-to-back, matches at the Ricoh Arena and Sandy Park on Saturday.
Wasps take on Bristol Bears in Coventry in the first semifinal before Exeter Chiefs host Bath.
For the Chiefs, Olly Woodburn comes in on the wing for Jack Nowell, who misses out with a foot injury. Ollie Devoto, another former Bath player, replaces Ian Whitten in the centre and up front, South African Jacques Vermeulen returns to the fold in place of Sam Skinner, who drops to the bench.
“It’s going to be a huge challenge and we’re going to have put in a season’s best performance,” said Exeter boss Rob Baxter. “We’re at the semifinals stage of the competition, the top four sides in the division, so you should be preparing for a huge test.
“Bath will be tough opponents. Although we beat them here earlier in the season, that will count for nothing this weekend. They are one of the form sides since lockdown and when you watch them play, they look like they are a side enjoying their rugby. As a coach, I always worry when I see a side enjoying themselves because that normally means they are playing well.”
History is against @bathrugby tomorrow 🛁
But can they rewrite the script and triumph over last season’s beaten finalists @ExeterChiefs?
— Premiership Rugby (@premrugby) October 9, 2020
Fresh from last Sunday’s draw at Saracens, Bath have made three changes for the trip to Devon after having their semifinal place confirmed by Sale forfeiting their match with Worcester.
Joe Cokanasiga will make his first start for Bath after 16 months following a knee injury. Cameron Redpath moves into midfield to join Jonathan Joseph and the young England centre replaces Josh Matavesi, who is named on the bench.
Tom Ellis comes back into the matchday 23 for Mike Williams, who makes way after his solid performance against Saracens last time out.
For the Wasps and Bears semi, Lee Blackett has made two changes to the Wasps starting line-up that beat Exeter Chiefs.
Joe Launchbury returns from injury to captain the side at lock and Jack Willis returns to the Wasps back row. The backline is unchanged from last Sunday’s victory.
— Premiership Rugby (@premrugby) October 9, 2020
Bristol, meanwhile, have chosen an XV that is an entirely new starting line-up to the side that suffered defeat to Wasps in Round 20.
Appearing in their first semifinal in 13 years, skipper Steven Luatua returns while Nathan Hughes is also named in the back row.
Andy Uren is selected at scrumhalf while Callum Sheedy, fresh from an international call-up with Wales, also comes back into the side.
George Kloska is listed among the replacements with Will Capon (ankle) and Bryan Byrne (hamstring) unavailable.
Saturday, October 10:
Wasps v Bristol Bears
(Ricoh Arena, Coventry – Kick-off: 13.30; 12.30 GMT)
Wasps have reached their fourth Premiership semifinal in the last five years but their only victory in those encounters was by a single point against Leicester Tigers at Ricoh Arena in 2017. Wasps have won their last six matches since their 11-20 reversal at home to Sale on August 25.
That defeat was their only home loss in any tournament since Bordeaux-Begles beat them in Coventry on January 18. Bristol Bears only previous Premiership semifinal appearance was in their 14-26 defeat to Leicester at Welford Road in 2007. The Bears have lost just once since the end of August: 13-59 to Saturday’s opponents Wasps at Ricoh Arena in Round 20.
Wasps have won their last nine fixtures against Bristol in the Premiership whilst the Bears only victory over them in the competition since 2001 was 26-21 at Memorial Stadium in September 2006.
Bristol have made four previous visits to Ricoh Arena with their only victory being 30-19 in the Premiership Rugby Cup in November 2018. The two clubs have met in only one previous semifinal encounter – in the Tetley’s Bitter Cup at Madejski Stadium in April 2000 with Wasps winning 44-31.
Prediction: Wasps to take it by five points.
Wasps: 15 Matteo Minozzi, 14 Zach Kibirige, 13 Malakai Fekitoa, 12 Jimmy Gopperth, 11 Josh Bassett, 10 Jacob Umaga, 9 Dan Robson, 8 Brad Shields, 7 Thomas Young, 6 Jack Willis, 5 Will Rowlands, 4 Joe Launchbury (captain), 3 Kieran Brookes, 2 Tommy Taylor, 1 Simon McIntyre.
Replacements: 16 Gabriel Oghre, 17 Tom West, 18 Biyi Alo, 19 James Gaskell, 20 Alfie Barbeary, 21 Tom Willis, 22 Ben Vellacott, 23 Michael Le Bourgeois.
Bristol Bears: 15 Max Malins, 14 Luke Morahan, 13 Semi Radradra, 12 Siale Piutau, 11 Piers O’Conor, 10 Callum Sheedy, 9 Andy Uren, 8 Nathan Hughes, 7 Ben Earl, 6 Steven Luatua (captain), 5 Chris Vui, 4 Joe Joyce, 3 John Afoa, 2 Harry Thacker, 1 Jake Woolmore.
Replacements: 16 George Kloska, 17 Yann Thomas, 18 Kyle Sinckler, 19 Ed Holmes, 20 Dan Thomas, 21 Harry Randall, 22 Sam Bedlow, 23 Alapati Leiua.
Referee: Matthew Carley
Assistant referees: Karl Dickson & Ian Tempest
TMO: Tom Foley.
Exeter Chiefs v Bath
(Sandy Park, Exeter – Kick-off: 16.30; 15.30 GMT)
This is Exeter Chiefs fifth straight Premiership semifinal, all four previous ones being played at Sandy Park, and all ending in victory. Chiefs have lost their last three Premiership matches but have not lost four in succession since season 2014-15.
Exeter were defeated by London Irish in Round 21 in their most recent game at Sandy Park but have not lost successive games in the Premiership at the venue since September 2014.
This is Bath’s fifth appearance at the semifinal stage but their first for five years, when they obtained their only victory at that stage, 47-10 at home to Leicester. Bath are unbeaten in their last five fixtures since their 23-27 reversal at home to Wasps on August 31 whilst they have not been defeated away from home in the Premiership since their last visit to Sandy Park in March.
Exeter have lost only one of their last ten first-team fixtures against Bath: 10-13 at the Recreation Ground in Round Two of the Premiership this campaign. Bath’s only victory at Sandy Park since 2014 was 13-10 in October 2016.
The two clubs have met in only one previous semifinal encounter, in the Anglo-Welsh Cup in 2014 with Exeter victorious at the Recreation Ground 22-19.
Prediction: Exeter Chiefs to take it by 12 points.
Exeter Chiefs: 15 Stuart Hogg, 14 Olly Woodburn, 13 Henry Slade, 12 Ollie Devoto, 11 Tom O’Flaherty, 10 Joe Simmonds (captain), 9 Jack Maunder, 8 Sam Simmonds, 7 Jacques Vermeulen, 6 Dave Ewers, 5 Jonny Hill, 4 Jonny Gray, 3 Harry Williams, 2 Luke Cowan-Dickie, 1 Alec Hepburn.
Replacements: 16 Jack Yeandle, 17 Ben Moon, 18 Tomas Francis, 19 Sam Skinner, 20 Jannes Kirsten, 21 Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, 22 Gareth Steenson, 23 Ian Whitten.
Bath: 15 Anthony Watson, 14 Ruaridh McConnochie, 13 Jonathan Joseph, 12 Cameron Redpath, 11 Joe Cokanasiga, 10 Rhys Priestland, 9 Ben Spencer, 8 Taulupe Faletau, 7 Sam Underhill, 6 Tom Ellis, 5 Charlie Ewels (captain), 4 Josh McNally, 3 Will Stuart, 2 Tom Dunn, 1 Beno Obano.
Replacements: 16 Jack Walker, 17 Lewis Boyce, 18 Christian Judge, 19 Elliott Stooke, 20 Miles Reid, 21 Will Chudley, 22 Josh Matavesi, 23 Tom de Glanville.
Referee: Luke Pearce
Assistant referees. Craig Maxwell-Keys & Adam Leal
TMO: Wayne Barnes