Ospreys host Exeter Chiefs in their Champions Cup opener on Sunday: 17:30 kick-off
The Welsh sides head coach Steve Tandy makes three changes
Chiefs head coach Rob Baxter has named an unchanged starting pack
Exeter Chiefs’ European campaign kicks off on Sunday as they travel to face Ospreys in their first top-level European fixture in two years.
After three successive victories in the Premiership, Rob Baxter’s side will be looking to continue their good form against the Welsh outfit at Swansea City’s Liberty Stadium.
Since facing the likes of all-conquering Toulon in the old Heineken Cup, something of a local derby kicks off their first ever Champions’ Cup campaign.
The Chiefs have faced the Ospreys twice before, winning both previous times in the LV=Cup, but the south Welshmen, who have fearsome skipper Alun Wyn-Jones to call upon, should prove to be a tough opponent on the back of morale-boosting returns from many of their World Cup stars.
But it could be said Chiefs are a stronger side from two years ago, with greater strength in depth alongside swathes of ‘big game’ experience to call upon given their recent additions and the Heineken Cup exploits of their longer-serving players in the 2013/14 season.
Both Ben Moon and Geoff Parling have returned to training this week but won’t be called upon in Swansea, while Phil Dollman and last season’s leading Thomas Waldrom (thigh) are ruled out with rib and thigh injuries respectively.
That means Chiefs Head Coach Rob Baxter has named an unchanged starting pack for the game, whilst Sam Hill steps into a centre berth in place of Ian Whitten and Matt Jess is promoted from the bench to the wing, meaning England’s Jack Nowell takes over at full-back from Dollman.
On the bench, Tom Johnson is included in the first team squad for the first time this campaign as Italian newcomer Michele Campagnaro, who has previously played for Benetton Treviso in Europe’s elite competition, look set for his Chiefs debut as a replacement.
In the home camp, Steve Tandy has made three changes from their impressive 36-3 demolition of Zebre last weekend and they all come in the pack.
Dmitri Arhip and Dan Lydiate come into the starting 15, while James King moves to Number 8. Lydiate is set for his first European Cup appearance for his current side, while Dafydd Howells makes his competition bow, as local product Rory Thornton prepares for his first appearance in Europe off the bench.
Exeter have been impressive in the opening few weeks of the Aviva Premiership, winning three of their four games thus far. Gareth Steenson, man of the match last weekend in their win against Leicester, has steered the Chiefs towards the top of the table but it is their youthful and exuberant style that suggests they will play with no fear and ultimately head home with what could be a crucial home win. Exeter by 7
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Ospreys: Dan Biggar
A star of the World Cup with Wales, his pinpoint spot kicking and masterful game management helped dump England out at the group stages, while the Red Dragons ‘injury-ridden squad made it all the way to the quarter-finals courtesy of the 26-year-old’s near-faultless leadership. A hard-nosed playmaker with a quirky kicking style to boot, the Swansea-born man is sure to stand out.
Exeter Chiefs: Jack Nowell
A full back by trade, Nowell had been stitched to the wing, with great success, by Rob Baxter this season, but a return to the 15 jersey is something the 22-year-old will relish in his side’s European opener. Replacing the injured Phil Dollman is a big ask, but the ten-time England international, who scored a hat-trick against Uruguay in the 2015 World Cup, has all the skills to pull it off and play his part in a huge game for the Somerset side.
Ospreys: 15 Dan Evans, 14 Dafydd Howells, 13 Jonathan Spratt, 12 Josh Matavesi, 11 Eli Walker, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Brendon Leonard, 8 James King, 7 Justin Tipuric, 6 Dan Lydiate, 5 Alun Wyn Jones (c), 4 Lloyd Ashley, 3 Dmitri Arhip, 2 Scott Baldwin, 1 Paul James.
Replacements: 16 Sam Parry, 17 Ryan Bevington, 18 Aaron Jarvis, 19 Rory Thornton, 20 Dan Baker, 21 Tom Habberfield, 22 Sam Davies, 23 Ben John.
Exeter: 15 Jack Nowell, 14 Matt Jess, 13 Henry Slade, 12 Sam Hill, 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 Alec Hepburn.
Replacements: 16 Jack Yeandle, 17 Carl Rimmer, 18 Moray Low, 19 Ollie Atkins, 20 Tom Johnson, 21 Dave Lewis, 22 Ian Whitten, 23 Michele Campagnaro.
Date: Sunday, November 15
Venue: Liberty Stadium
Kick-off: 17:30 GMT
Referee: Marius Mitrea (Italy)
Assistant Referees: Giuseppe Vivarini (Italy), Stefano Roscini (Italy)
TMO: Stefano Pennè (Italy)