Premiership Final - Teams and Predictions
EXETER CHIEFS v HARLEQUINS: After one of the most entertaining seasons in the history of the Premiership, it all comes down to one final match at Twickenham Stadium to decide the champions of England.
The season has set a new record for tries scored, at 6.19 tries per game, taking us over the magical six tries per game mark for the first time in our history. While our 49.2 points per game average have only been bettered twice and not for 21 years.
In the Final, we have the League’s leading try-scorers. Exeter Chiefs, who crossed the line a stunning 93 times – in 22 League matches – with a certain Sam Simmonds bagging 20 of those for a new record. If you include the semi-final, the Chiefs need just two on Saturday for 100 tries in the season.
In the other corner, Harlequins also bring a fearsome attacking record to HQ, fresh from staging the biggest comeback in Premiership history in last weekend’s semi-finals and scoring 89 tries themselves in the regular season. With the seven they grabbed against Bristol Bears they need four to hit the magical ton.
It’s a trip Exeter Chiefs have become accustomed to in recent years.
For a sixth successive season, Devon’s finest will head to the capital in a bid to land English Rugby’s top prize.
Victory for the Chiefs would not only ensure them of a third title in five years but, more importantly, it would seal back-to-back crowns – a phenomenal achievement in itself given the relentless nature of the top-flight.
Unlike last season where they were the dominant force, both in the Premiership and Europe, this time round they have faced a much tougher fight in their quest to reach the end of season showpiece. Bristol, topped the standings at the end of the regular season, whilst Sale Sharks and Harlequins proved equally formidable foes.
“The mood feels pretty good,” said Exeter Chiefs Director of Rugby Rob Baxter earlier this week.
“Right now, it doesn’t quite feel like it did last week [against Sale], because that was electric and I could sense seeing the boys and the way they were in training, that they were hungry and ready to go. I could see in their body language, the way they were talking, and the way they wanted to drive things through, I never felt we were ever going to lose that game.
“I think as this week goes on and we get ever closer to the game, we will get that same buzz about the place. I know even now the lads are ready. Once you get over those first few days of giddiness about getting to the final, it’s then that you start to lock things down and focus on making sure you give yourself the best chance to go out and win the game.
“That’s our job as coaches to help do that, but it’s also the job of the players to make sure they are in the right frame of mind as well.”
Standing in the way of the Chiefs tomorrow will be a Harlequins side, who have produced a Lazarus-like revival to their season following the departure of former head coach Paul Gustard back in January.
Baxter has watched from afar the strides they have made since that time and he has warned his players of the threat they will pose to his own side’s chances this weekend.
“I can’t tell you what they have changed, just because I’ve not been part of their camp,” added Baxter.
“What I can say is, you look at their players and you can see they look comfortable, they look as though they are enjoying the way they play, and they are playing with smiles on their faces. When you get a team like that, it makes them dangerous.
Harlequins made three changes to the starting side that claimed a historic semi-final win away to Ashton Gate last weekend.
Springbok centre Andre Esterhuizen bolsters Quins’ midfield for the first time since March having returned from suspension this week. Stepping into the No.12 jersey, Australian international Ben Tapuai takes up the No.22 jersey on the bench.
Back row James Chisholm also returns to the starting XV this week, having impressed with a try-scoring appearance from the bench last weekend. Tom Lawday takes up the No.20 jersey amongst the Impact Players.
The final change to the starting line-up sees wing Cadan Murley start following injury to outside back Aaron Morris in Bristol last week.
Commenting, Harlequins’ General Manager Billy Millard said: “Before a ball has been kicked in anger this weekend, I want to go on the record stating how proud I am of this side.
“This is a special group with the ability to do exceptional things.
“We know Exeter offer us a very different challenge to the one we came up against in Bristol last weekend. We’ve done our due diligence and have worked hard on our physical and mental preparation this week.
“This is an exciting time for the club and we will be sure to make the most of every moment.”
On Saturday Matthew Carley becomes only the seventh different referee to take charge of the 19 finals so far. This is Exeter Chiefs sixth successive Premiership Rugby Final (only Leicester have a longer consecutive run with nine in a row) with their two victories so far being against Wasps in 2017 and 2002.
The Chiefs have won their last eight Premiership Rugby fixtures since losing 18-34 at Gloucester in Round 15. Harlequins are only the fourth fourth-placed team to reach the Premiership Rugby Final and of those only Saracens in 2015 went on to lift the trophy.
The only previous time that Harlequins reached the Premiership Final was as No.1 seeds in 2012 when they beat Leicester at Twickenham to take the spoils. Quins only defeat in their last seven appearances at Twickenham in all competitions was 29-39 to London Irish in the London Double Header in 2017.
Exeter won both encounters with Harlequins in the regular season, winning 33-3 at the Stoop in November and by a single point in a thriller at Sandy Park in March.
The two sides have met just once before at Twickenham with Harlequins running out victors 22-6 in The Big Game on 28 December 2013.
@rugby365com: Exeter Chiefs by five points
Exeter Chiefs: 15 Jack Nowell, 14 Alex Cuthbert, 13 Henry Slade, 12 Ollie Devoto, 11 Tom O’Flaherty, 10 Joe Simmonds (captain), 9 Jack Maunder, 8 Sam Simmonds, 7 Richard Capstick, 6 Jannes Kirsten, 5 Jonny Hill, 4 Jonny Gray, 3 Harry Williams, 2 Luke Cowan-Dickie, 1 Alec Hepburn
Replacements: 16 Jack Yeandle, 17 Ben Moon, 18 Marcus Street, 19 Sean Lonsdale, 20 Don Armand, 21 Stu Townsend, 22 Harvey Skinner, 23 Stuart Hogg
Harlequins: 15 Tyrone Green, 14 Louis Lynagh, 13 Joe Marchant, 12 Andre Esterhuizen, 11 Cadan Murley, 10 Marcus Smith, 9 Danny Care, 8 Alex Dombrandt, 7 Jack Kenningham, 6 James Chisholm, 5 Stephan Lewies (captain), 4 Matt Symons, 3 Wilco Louw, 2 Scott Baldwin, 1 Joe Marler
Replacements: 16 Joe Gray, 17 Santiago Garcia Botta, 18 Will Collier, 19 Dino Lamb, 20 Tom Lawday, 21 Martin Landajo, 22 Ben Tapuai, 23 Luke Northmore
Date: Saturday, June 26
Kick-off: 17.30 (16:30 GMT)
Referee: Matthew Carley
Assistant referees: Luke Pearce, Karl Dickson
TMO: Ian Tempest