Exeter Chiefs v Leicester Tigers Preview: Early pacesetters clash at Sandy Park
Third-place Exter welcome second-place Leicester to Sandy Park on Saturday: 5:30 pm kick off
The Chiefs recall England winger Jack Nowell to their starting XV
Leicester includes England scrum-half Ben Youngs for the first time this season while brother Tom Captains the Tigers for the first time
Saturday’s evening kick-off sees two sides come together who are filled with optimism, both sitting firmly in the top three, as third-placed Exeter welcome second-placed Leicester to Sandy Park.
After a disappointing 19-17 defeat at home to Bath in round one, the Chiefs have bounced up the table with a 38-11 thrashing of London Irish at home two weeks ago, before an impressive 41-3 demolition of Newcastle away from home last time out. Three bonus points along the way mean they sit just two points adrift of Saracens, who currently occupy the top spot.
But this weekend sees arguably their biggest test of the season as Leicester, who hold one of two 100 per cent Premiership records so far, come to town.
After a trophyless 2014/15 campaign, Richard Cockerill’s men have started well without stealing the headlines after beating Irish 28-16 in round one before a 22-19 win over Harlequins ahead of last week’s steely 24-16 win over Wasps. Similarly, this will be viewed by many as Leicester’s biggest test of the season.
A high-quality game is in prospect and recent history suggests a tight clash, with just three points the aggregate gap between the two sides over their last three games. That record has come courtesy of two wins for Leicester, 24-20 at Sandy Park in March, and 25-18 at home in September last year, either side of a 30-22 win for Chiefs at Welford Road, also in March this year
Looking at the teams, Exeter recall England winger Jack Nowell for what Rob Baxter has called the ‘acid test’ for his side after he was rested for the Newcastle clash, while Ian Whitten replaces Sam Hill at centre.
Leicester includes England scrum-half Ben Youngs, who is available after recovering from an ankle injury while his brother Tom Youngs is named as captain of the Tigers for the first time in the league. Jordan Crane also makes his first start of the season in the back row.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Exeter Chiefs: Don Armand
The Beast himself has been in inspired form this season and picked up the Man of the Match award as his side cruised to a big win at Newcastle last time out. After a slow start to his Exeter career, which has seen 24 games in two years, another influential performance from the Zimbabwe-born giant could propel him into Chiefs stardom.
Leicester Tigers: Owen Williams
The sparky Welshman has enjoyed an excellent start to the year and starred in Tigers’ impressive win over Wasps on Sunday. After dislodging Toby Flood for the fly-half shirt, the 23-year-old has gone from strength to strength and his performances have already caught the eye this year. A Wales call-up has been touted by many.
Exeter Chiefs: 15 Phil Dollman, 14 Jack Nowell, 13 Henry Slade, 12 Ian Whitten, 11 James Short, 10 Gareth Steenson (c), 9 Will Chudley, 8 Don Armand, 7 Julian Salvi, 6 Dave Ewers, 5 Damian Welch, 4 Mitch Lees, 3 Tomas Francis, 2 Luke Cowan-Dickie, 1 Ben Moon
Replacements: 16 Jack Yeandle, 17 Alec Hepburn, 18 Moray Low, 19 Ollie Atkins, 20 Thomas Waldrom, 21 Dave Lewis, 22 Sam Hill, 23 Matt Jess
Leicester Tigers: 15 Telusa Veainu , 14 Adam Thompstone , 13 Matt Smith, 12 Seremaia Bai , 11 Vereniki Goneva , 10 Owen Williams , 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Jordan Crane, 7 Lachlan McCaffrey, 6 Tom Croft, 5 Sebastian de Chaves, 4 Dom Barrow, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Tom Youngs (c), 1 Fraser Balmain
Replacements: 16 Harry Thacker, 17 Riccardo Brugnara, 18 Tiziano Pasquali, 19 Mike Fitzgerald, 20 Laurence Pearce, 21 Jono Kitto, 22 Peter Betham, 23 Mathew Tait
Date: Saturday, November 7
Venue: Sandy Park
Kick-off: 17:30 GMT
Referee: Greg Garner
Assistant referees: Paul Burton, Ross Campbell
TMO: Geoff Warren