Aviva Premiership Preview: Exeter Chiefs

Director of Rugby/ Head Coach: Rob Baxter

Captain: Jack Yeandle

Stadium: Sandy Park (Capacity: 12,600)

Last Season: Runners-Up

Prediction: 3rd

Exeter Chiefs stunned everyone as they made the Premiership play-offs for the first time and went on to lose to Saracens in the final.

Baxter is known for his developing of young talent and with the likes of Jack Nowell, Henry Slade and Luke Cowan-Dickie finally gaining international recognition his plan seems to be working as he strengthens the squad with overseas talent.

NOWELL

Jack Nowell scoring for Exeter.

Exeter were happy to play expansive, attacking rugby by using their triumvirate of playmakers in the midfield all offering different styles. Gareth Steenson very much the measured controller, Slade the speedy creator and Ian Whitten the explosive link-man.

With the three outlets they can recycle ball quickly to set up two or three waves of attack one after the other sucking in defenders along with sending their big forwards ball carriers into the holes.

THREE TO WATCH

Luke Cowan-Dickie

Position: Hooker  Nationality: English  Age: 23 Height: 1.84m  Weight: 112kg

The young hooker has been pushing for an England place for a while and last season got a run in the team.

 

His work in the loose and effective carrying make him a valuable asset. He will overtake Yeandle as first choice if he can continue to produce the rugby that made him an international.

Jack Nowell

Position: Wing  Nationality: English  Age: 23  Height: 1.77m  Weight: 97kg

Nowell’s defensive ability make him a useful winger to have in the side, he covers kicks well and also has the ability to beat defenders one-on-one despite not being the quickest of wingers.

A determined competitor and a man that will make his mark on the season without a doubt, expect to see him challenge for a Lions spot.

Henry Slade

Position: Centre  Nationality: English  Age: 23  Height: 1.88m  Weight: 92kg

The playmaker will provide pace and bravery in equal measure and with his ability to play 10,12 or 13 he is versatility personified.

SLADE

Henry Slade is versatile player

Arguably the most naturally gifted back in the league. He is determined to play for his country watch him challenge Owen Farrell and George Ford to break into the team. Exciting times ahead for the 23 year old.

TRANSFERS

IN (4)

Dave Dennis (NSW Waratahs, AUS)

Ollie Devoto (Bath Rugby, ENG)

Greg Holmes (Queensland Reds, AUS)

Lachlan Turner (RC Toulon, FRA)

OUT (8)

Chrysander Botha (Welwitchias,NAM)

Alex Brown (USA Perpignan, FRA)
Adam Hughes, (Dragons, WAL)

Josh Jones (Salford Red Devils (rugby league), ENG)

Bryon McGuigan (Sale Sharks, ENG)

Jerry Sexton (London Irish, ENG)

Lewis Stevenson (Connacht, IRE)

Brett Sturgess (Ampthill, ENG)

Lachie Turner is an impressive coup the former Australia international is a real talent,  Ollie Devoto adds to a plethora of playmaking options in the already saturated Exeter midfield.

TURNER

Turner scoring for Australia.

None of the departures will be too much for Exeter. More of a cutting of the deadwood than any major moves away.

My Exeter Chiefs 23

15 Lachlan Turner 14 Jack Nowell 13 Henry Slade 12 Ian Whitten 11 James Short 10 Gareth Steenson (Captain) 9 Will Chudley

1 Alec Hepburn 2 Luke Cowan-Dickie 3 Tomas Francis 4 Damian Welch 5 Geoff Parling 6 Don Armand 7 Julian Salvi 8 Thomas Waldrom

16 Jack Yeandle 17 Ben Moon 18 Carl Rimmer 19 Ollie Atkins 20 Dave Ewers 21 Dave Lewis 22 Sam Hill 23 Olly Woodburn

Exeter should comfortably qualify for the play-offs again and don’t expect them to lie down in Europe either.

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Destiny Beckons for Murray

This year’s Wimbledon has been one of full of shocks especially in the men’s draw with Wawrinka and Novak Djokovic falling in the first week.

Yesterday in the semi-final we saw, the greatest player of his generation Federer also head for the exit doors following a brutal encounter with Raonic who played an absolutely blinding game.

Milos Raonic becomes the first Canadian to play in a Grand Slam final when he takes on the British number one Andy Murray on Centre Court.

Murray has had a very routine tournament so far following a reunion with tennis idol Ivan Lendl prior to his sixth title at Queens. Murray dispatched with former finalist Berdych in straight sets.

MURRAY

Murray and Berdych share a handshake following Murray’s victory.

The in-form Scot looks destined to win his second title at Wimbledon due to all the biggest challengers Djokovic, Wawrinka, Federer, Nishikori, Cilic all gone without a trace.

Murray is the heavy favourite for tomorrow’s match up but he will be wary of the Canadian and his powerful service game that gave Federer some real problems.

Murray knows how big the stage is for him tomorrow and he also knows for any other match at any other tournament this tie would be routine. He also knows this is a Wimbledon final, he is the overwhelming favourite and he has to perform. That pressure does not make the task easier.

The ball looks to be in Murray’s court, if he can hit the winner remains to be seen.

Unstoppable Djokovic Claims French Crown

The Serbian champions has finally lifted the title that’s eluded him for so long, heartbreak against Wawrinka last year seemed to lift him this year. He has been unplayable for large parts of the year and Murray was shown this yesterday.

The British number one was sensational in the first set and pinned the world number one back with a powerful forehand defensive game. The second set was the complete reverse as Djokovic settled into his natural game.

Screen Shot 2016-06-06 at 16.00.07

Djokovic after winning the French Open for the first time in his career.

The Serb has a frighteningly quick stroke speed, something which Murray found hard to contain on the clay. A sublime performance at the net whilst also driving the Brit further and further behind the baseline let Djokovic own the court.

Murray is among the quickest players in the ATP tour but no amount of pace over the court was going to stop Djokovic powering to claim his first Roland Garros title.

For the neutral it was a wonderful performance from Djokovic and although Murray won the first set there was no denying that the Serb deserved the victory.

As we head towards the grass season it poses the question, who if anyone will stop Djokovic? Wimbledon looks to be a fascinating major to end the season on and there is one clear favourite of course.

If Djokovic keeps this level of his game up there will be no stopping him when the tennis world descends on London this summer.

Next Up, World Cup

England’s warm-up games ended with a win over Ireland in London, an important win with England opening their World Cup campaign against Fiji in 11 days time.

England have answered loads of questions in their win over Ireland and Lancaster will now have a very clear picture of who will take to the field to play Fiji on 18th September. England dominated the match against Ireland and although they scored 2 tries they could easily have had 2 more had Youngs passed backwards or Farrell had the vision to throw the right pass.

Pool A is most certainly the toughest of the 4 pools, England look sharp and being at Twickenham gives them a huge advantage going into the ‘Group of Death’. Wales are strong and although Rhys Webb is a huge doubt and Halfpenny is out of the World Cup following injuries when they faced Italy they still pose a threat. Australia are always dangerous and their win over the All Blacks a few weeks ago demonstrated just how deadly they can be.

Australia score a try as they beat England.

Australia score a try as they beat England.

Even Fiji look good and their massive victory over Canada is a sign that they are not a write off and could challenge the big 3 of Pool A. Uruguay are likely to be the whipping boys of the group, they could be the victims of 4 heavy defeats and stand little chance of winning any game.

England look like they could be on the brink of going some way in this 2015 World Cup, maybe even to the final and there is a very real possibility of that happening should they top this tricky pool. The win over Ireland has shone a light on which players must be in that dressing room as the roar of the fans brings Twickenham to life at the start of 7 weeks that will change the face of world rugby in some way.

Jonny May has to be picked on the wing, Watson will start that much is assured but May must get the nod over Nowell. His try against Ireland was wonderful a display of power from the Gloucester flyer sees him surely shoot into the forefront of Lancaster’s mind. The devastation he can cause defences is both delightful and scary at the same time he makes light work of even the best defensive wingers. His try against the All Blacks in November and his performance against Ireland show this.

Mike Brown must remain as fullback despite the efforts of Alex Goode, yes Goode did play well against France but the mercurial Brown has to stay at his best he is among the best fullbacks in the world. The Harlequins star could well be the difference between a win or a loss. He is something special and along with Watson and May could form a worryingly devastating back three.

Tom Wood and Ben Morgan surely will start, Wood must start after his massively impressive game at Twickenham. He is undoubtedly a talented flanker with much in his armoury that England have only scratched the surface of. Morgan proved his fitness and budged his way into the squad ahead of the massive Vunipola who can be deployed as an impact player off the bench. As a Wales back with tired legs you don’t want Vunipola running at you that would scare the living daylights out of any player in that pool bar possibly giant Fijian Nadolo.

Tom Youngs finally answered his critics with a big game, the line out was better if scrappy as was the scrum. He will start but George may well overtake him over the course of the tournament as he gains more caps. The Saracens hooker is looking more like an international hooker with every minute he plays and Bath’s Webber is being edged out the squad rightly so.

The final question was answered overwhelmingly by the Bath maestro Ford. He was sublime, his sumptuous kick to Watson for England’s try was art, it was beautiful I as an avid rugby fan and self proclaimed connoisseur could say that kick was the epitome of fine art, the Michelin star dish of tries. It was something special. Ford has this little bit of pace this silky running and flair filled fun game that just sparks a team to life which was shown by the the way Bath played last season. One point in the game where it showed why Ford should start was when he wasn’t even on the field. Farrell (a good fly-half in his own right) threw a bad (because it was behind him) and poorly judged miss pass to Mike Brown. Had Ford been on the field England would have probably scored he would never dreamed of throwing a miss pass when he could instead exploit the shortage of Irish numbers so Brown could walk over the line.

Ford makes a break against Ireland for England.

Ford makes a break against Ireland for England.

England are there they have their answers, they know now who they must pick to make their way to Twickenham in 31st October when (hopefully) England will be playing in their 4th World Cup final.

The race to Twickenham is well and truly on.

My England 23 to face Fiji: 1 J.Marler 2 T.Youngs 3 D.Cole 4 C.Lawes 5 G.Parling 6 T.Wood 7 C.Robshaw (C) 8 B.Morgan
9 B.Youngs 10 G.Ford 11 J.May 12 B.Barritt 13 J.Joseph 14 A.Watson 15 M.Brown

16 J.George 17 M.Vunipola 18 D.Wilson 19 J.Launchbury 20 B.Vunipola
21 R.Wigglesworth 22 O.Farrell 23 A.Goode

Bolt’s Beijing Triumph Shows All Is Not Lost

Athletics has had a tough time with the publicity as of late with drug problems arising left. right and centre. This has always been a problem for the sport a few years ago a hoard of Jamaican athletes were caught out in a random drugs test then came the revelation that Tyson Gay was taking drugs which was followed by the recent Salazar fall out.

Alberto Salazar has been accused of doping many of his athletes including Olympic silver medalist Galen Rupp.

Alberto Salazar has been accused of doping many of his athletes including Olympic silver medalist Galen Rupp.

This week the World Championships took place in Beijing and two times drugs cheat Justin Gatlin came into the race as favourite and he dominated the heats as Olympic champion Bolt struggled. Tyson Gay was also among the front runners another cheat. Bolt however was unstoppable as he won gold in the final saving some face for the sport. He beat Gatlin to the gold medal by one hundredth of a second and the sport saved some face.

Usain Bolt held off the challenge of Gatlin to claim gold in Beijing 7 years after smashing the world record there.

Usain Bolt held off the challenge of Gatlin to claim gold in Beijing 7 years after smashing the world record there.

This win is huge and not just for the Jamaican runner. Two major drug cheats were in the final today a damning image for a sport that could well be argued to be in crisis. This win for Bolt gives the sport hope that it can recover had one of the American doping cheats Gay or Gatlin won the race the sport would have come under even greater scrutiny and the sport’s reputation brought into greater disrepute.

Another high profile doping cheat is Bolt’s Jamaican teammate Asafa Powell the 2008 World Champion after a championship in Stuggart. The Jamaican runner was tested positive for a banned substance but he vehemently denied having taken the drug knowingly or willingly and his suspension was lifted three months after his initial ban. This does not matter though another high profile runner to have been implicated in drugs abuse.

This win for the world record holder is massive, it gives the sport back some of it’s integrity, his influence on the sport is so profound that this win may be just one medal but with the Rio de Janeiro games only a year away and considering the fanbase of Bolt make this win a hugely positive result for the athlete and the sport in general terms.

The Rio de Janeiro Olympics is only a year away.

The Rio de Janeiro Olympics is only a year away.

The disgusting and frankly abhorrent actions of the doping cheats such as Gatlin and Gay cannot continue to be tolerated both have won multiple championships and become world class athletes. If the IAAF continues to tolerate the use of these not just banned but dangerous substances they could well see a huge drop in the attendance of fans to the major championships like the Olympics, World Championships and Diamond League.

If it were found the likes of Bolt were taking drugs the sport would be broken it would be a sport in crisis. Usain Bolt and Yohan Blake as in my opinion the 2 best sprinters in the world; in fact of all time must stay clean for the good of the sport.

I for one can never tolerate the actions of the doping, cheating athletes that have come to blacken the name of one of the most enthralling athletics events to watch. These doping cheats must be stamped out before drugs become a regular feature if any major athletics avert around the world.