Worcester Warriors hosts Premiership title-chasing Exeter at Sixways on Sunday: 15:00 kick-off
The Warriors will be looking to end their run of 10 straight league and cup defeats
Fit-again captain GJ van Velze makes his first Premiership appearance since late November for the hosts
The Chiefs have young lock forward Jonny Hill making his first start
Worcester captain GJ van Velze will make his first Aviva Premiership appearance since late November as Warriors host Exeter Chiefs at Sixways on Sunday.
The South African is one of six changes to the starting XV that led for long periods and pushed Wasps earlier this month, with the welcome return of winger Bryce Heem, who recently got married back in his native New Zealand.
Flanker Marco Mama signed a deal this week to join Warriors on a permanent basis at the end of the season, and will partner Van Velze and the experienced Phil Dowson in the back row.
Scrum-half Luke Baldwin is rewarded for his displays in Europe with a starting berth, while fly-half Tom Heathcote and lock Darren Barry come back into the side after knocks.
New signing James Johnston is among the replacements and could be set for his Warriors debut, while Dean Hammond is also named on the bench after signing a new deal with the Club earlier this week.
“There are guys that have put their hands up in Europe and are on the periphery of the first-team and now we head into a big group of league games it’s vital to have that,” said Worcester Director of Rugby Dean Ryan.
“This next patch of games is crucial and will define the season, where we are as a group, the success of the individuals here and the Club as a whole.
“I’m a big admirer of what Exeter have done. They’re going well in the league and are into the European quarter-finals.
Meanwhile, Exeter Chiefs head coach Rob Baxter has been buoyed by the fact that certain players are available for the trip.
Luke Cowan-Dickie and Sam Hill, both of whom have been training with England this week, both return on the bench, while internationals Tomas Francis and Michele Campagnaro both start despite reporting for Six Nations camps at the start of the week.
Also included for his first-ever Premiership start is young lock Jonny Hill, who impressed massively in last weekend’s win over the Ospreys.
He will pack down alongside the experienced Geoff Parling, who has recovered from a nasty head wound sustained in the same game. Also back into the starting XV come scrum-half Will Chudley and flanker Julian Salvi.
“This is a big opportunity for us,” said Baxter.
“We spent a lot of time in pre-season working on rehab and pre-hab and making sure everything we did, especially in terms of our recovery, was right.
“We talked a lot about this being a different kind of season to normal, but we said the teams who thrive through this ten-week block will be the teams who will ultimately thrive in the Premiership this season.
Worcester Warriors have lost their last ten first team matches since beating La Rochelle at Sixways in Round 1 of the Challenge Cup
Dean Ryan’s men have not gained a victory in Premiership Rugby since they overcame Newcastle in Round 4
Exeter Chiefs are Premiership Rugby’s top try scorers this season with 30, and have lost just one of their last eight encounters in the tournament: 3-8 at Northampton on New Year’s Day
The ChiefsExeter have won all six previous Premiership rugby encounters against the Warriors whilst Worcester’s most recent victory over the Chiefs in any competition came in March 2004 at the old County Ground in National League One
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Worcester: Tom Heathcote
Exeter Chiefs: James Short
Worcester: 15 Chris Pennell, 14 Bryce Heem, 13 Wynand Olivier, 12 Ryan Mills , 11 Cooper Vuna, 10 Tom Heathcote, 9 Luke Baldwin, 8 GJ van Velze (c), 7 Marco Mama, 6 Phil Dowson, 5 Darren Barry, 4 Donncha O’Callaghan, 3 Nick Schonert, 2 Niall Annett, 1 Na’ama Leleimalefaga.
Replacements: 16 Ben Sowrey, 17 Ryan Bower, 19 James Johnston, 19 Tevita Cavubati, 20 Matt Cox, 21 Charlie Mulchrone, 22 Andy Symons, 23 Dean Hammond.
Exeter: 15 Phil Dollman, 14 Olly Woodburn, 13 Michele Campagnaro, 12 Ian Whitten, 11 James Short, 10 Gareth Steenson, 9 Will Chudley, 8 Thomas Waldrom, 7 Julian Salvi, 6 Don Armand, 5 Geoff Parling, 4 Jonny Hill, 3 Tomas Francis, 2 Jack Yeandle (c), 1 Alec Hepburn,
Replacements: 16 Luke Cowan-Dickie, 17 Ben Moon, 18 Alex Brown, 19 Ollie Atkins, 20 Kai Horstmann, 21 Dave Lewis, 22 Will Hooley, 23 Sam Hill
Date: Sunday, January 31
Kick-off: 15:00 GMT
Referee: Craig Maxwell-Keys
Assistant Referees: Peter Allan, Roger Baileff
TMO: Sean Davey