Bath v Exeter Chiefs preview: Season kicks off with West Country derby
Bath meets Exeter in Aviva Premiership opener: 2 pm kick off
George Ford and Anthony Watson start for Bath while Sam Burgess is on the bench
Henry Slade returns to the bench for the Chiefs
Bath have suffered two pre-season defeats to Exeter
Ambitious Exeter Chiefs kick off their Premiership campaign with a West Country derby at Bath.
For the hosts, World Cup squad members George Ford and Anthony Watson start in an all-English back line, while Alafoti Faosiliva also starts despite playing as recently as last week for Samoa.
Sam Burgess is named on the bench, interestingly lined up as cover for the back row rather than the centres, as Mike Ford outlines his plan for the former Rugby League man.
Both sides enjoyed hugely successful seasons last time out, but both were tinged with disappointment; with Bath breaching the top two before tripping at the Final hurdle against Saracens, while Exeter were inspired, scoring more points than all but two of their Premiership rivals, but denied a top-four place by just one point.
Additions have been made to both sides, but most fresh faces are set to make their club bows from the bench.
Chiefs boss Rob Baxter has decided against recalling his World Cup stars, with England’s Henry Slade their sole World Cup man only featuring on the bench.
Bath suffered two pre-season defeats to Exeter, most recently a 43-16 drubbing at the Rec last weekend. But tomorrow’s hosts will inevitably prepare differently for tomorrow’s televised clash and history suggests a home win will be on the cards.
The Somerset outfit have lost just once on the Premiership’s opening weekend since 2006 – a 24-5 loss to Gloucester in 2009, while they are in good form having won their last six regular-season games.
Players to Watch
In a clash between two attacking and enterprising sides, both sides’ primary try-scorers look set to come to the fore.
Bath: Semesa Rokoduguni
The spirited Fijian-born Englishman enjoyed an exceptional year in 2014/15, ending the year as his side’s top try scorer with ten throughout the season. With pace to burn, the 28-year-old, who represented the Army RU side prior to arriving at Bath in 2012, where he has become a mainstay of Mike Ford’s progressive side, scoring 110 points in 56 appearances. Will be looking to rediscover the form that saw him earn an England cap in January last year.
Exeter Chiefs: Thomas Waldrom
In a side that exudes team effort, Waldrom, Chiefs’ leading scorer with 16 tries last year, arguably epitomises that spirit. ‘Thomas the Tank’ as he is affectionately known, ripped and tore his way through defences in a remarkable campaign, topping the division’s tryscoring charts in the process. The Number 8 has become an undoubted fans’ favourite at Sandy Park and will be keen to impress as his Chiefs contract runs towards its’ end, starting on Saturday.
Bath: 15 Tom Homer, 14 Semesa Rokoduguni, 13 Matt Banahan, 12 Kyle Eastmond, 11 Anthony Watson, 10 George Ford, 9 Chris Cook, 1 Nick Auterac, 2 Ross Batty, 3 Henry Thomas, 4 Stuart Hooper (c), 5 Dave Attwood, 6 Matt Garvey, 7 Alafoti Faosiliva, 8 Leroy Houston.
Replacements: 16 Rob Webber, 17 Max Lahiff, 18 David Wilson, 19 Sam Burgess, 20 Guy Mercer, 21 Niko Matawalu, 22 Max Clark, 23 Jeff Williams.
Exeter: 15 Phil Dollman, 14 Matt Jess, 13 Ian Whitten, 12 Sam Hill, 11 James Short, 10 Gareth Steenson (c), 9 Will Chudley, 1 Ben Moon 2, Luke Cowan-Dickie, 3 Alex Brown, 4 Mitch Lees, 5 Damian Welch, 6 Dave Ewers, 7 Don Armand, 8 Thomas Waldrom.
Replacements: 16 Jack Yeandle 17 Alec Hepburn 18 Moray Low 19 Ollie Atkins 20 Julian Salvi 21 Dave Lewis 22 Henry Slade 23 Olly Woodburn.
Date: Saturday, October 17, 2015.
Venue: Recreation Ground
Coverage: BT Sport; BBC Local Radio.
Referee: Tim Wigglesworth (96th Premiership game).
Assistant Referees: Ross Campbell & Gareth Copsey.
TMO: Rowan Kitt.