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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Eddie’s Eleven

Eddie Jones is close to naming his first set of players to try and rebuild the reputation of one of the world’s rugby superpowers. With the Six Nations happening next month Eddie Jones has been given permission to change just eleven (including Sam Burgess) of the players that crashed out of the World Cup in October.

The fact that Ian Ritchie who’s tenure at the Rugby Football Union has been marred by controversy and ultimately failure has only allowed eleven changes is in itself moronic. How can Eddie Jones make his mark on a team full of deadweight that have overseen England’s worst ever World Cup.

Ian-Ritchie-RFU-chief-executive

RFU Chief Executive, Ian Ricthie

As well as the enforced change of Burgess, Henry Slade, Kieran Brookes, Jonny May will all have been changed due to injury. This leaves Eddie Jones with just seven real changes within the squad that can be used to improve.

If we look at replacement options surely Wasps centre Daly has to be included to replace the Rabbitohs star. Daly has proved this season that he has grown in maturity, his running lines are inventive and a breath of fresh air.

He has some real pace probably due to the time he spent at fullback, his pace and running lines have shown some of the best defences in Europe crack such as Toulon and Leinster. Daly’s ability to smash the ball over from 60 plus metres is also a hugely handy attribute in international rugby.

Elliot-Daly-551x400

Elliot Daly escapes the clutches of Dave Attwood

Another man that has to be considered after being practically ignored for there last four years is Kyle Eastmond, granted the centre is not having the best of seasons with Bath who are struggling to regain the form of last season which surely will click at some point.

Eastmond’s dazzling footwork is a joy to behold watching him dance his way through defenders was one of the high points of last season. His electric feet and turn of pace make him a nightmare to defend against.

To replace the injured Jonny May there is only one contender in my mind that man is Saracens flyer Chris Ashton. How many tries does this man have to score to be in the England squad?

He is on fire and scoring for fun in north London with the players inside him offering a few kicks ahead and his knack of popping up in the right place at the right time make him an invaluable finisher, just what England and Eddie Jones may be looking for. He will score tries and plenty of them.

The loss of Brookes who looks to be the next big thing in the England scrum is a shame, there are few players who can scrummage like the Saints tighthead. The only option in my mind is Wasps prop Jake Cooper-Wooley who has done a sterling job up in Coventry.

brookes.jpg

Kieran Brookes will miss the Six Nations due to injury

Due to the lack of real talent at tighthead and the way Dan Cole was ripped to pieces by Saracens pack mean Cooper-Wooley may well be thrown into the deep end in the absence of Brookes.

So there are the first four:
OUT: Kieran Brookes (Northampton Saints), Sam Burgess (South Sydney Rabbitohs), Jonny May (Gloucester Rugby), Henry Slade (Exeter Chiefs)
IN: Chris Ashton (Saracens), Jake Cooper-Wooley, Elliot Daly (both Wasps), Kyle Eastmond (Bath Rugby)

Assuming Nick Easter is included so England will have a 32 man squad for the Six Nations that gives us six back row spots to work with. This will come as no shock but in my mind there is no place for Robshaw, a huge work rate and extraordinary passion unfortunately does not win you international rugby matches.

My favourite English opened right now has to be Kvesic and with other contenders in the mix like Clifford, Fraser and O’Connor, Haskell also has to go. Kvesic is an unbelievable openside, a ‘traditional’ seven.

He has been brilliant for Gloucester which is why they find themselves in a pretty strong position so far this season. Kvesic has struggled to really break into the England squad despite being around the team for long enough. His turnover rate is astonishing and he’s not shy of a big hit either.

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Matt Kvesic in action for Gloucester

Jack Clifford would be my replacement for Haskell. A lot has been spoken about Jack Clifford being England’s next openside and his skills. For me Clifford is a future England captain and his ball carrying and tenacity at the breakdown see him usurp Haskell.

Nick Easter, what a player. An example to players everywhere to never give up after being told by Lancaster in 2011 he would never again play for England four years later he is playing for his country in a World Cup.

A lovely story but he has to go, and there is only one man to replace him, Maro Itoje. The Saracens man who is just as at home in the engine room is my player of the season so far. His athleticism and leadership skills are making Saracens tick this season. Another contender for future England captain.

Itoje has to be in the squad, his form for Saracens is just the start of another wonderful journey.

Another summary:
OUT: Nick Easter (Harlequins), James Haskell (Wasps), Chris Robshaw (Harlequins)
IN: Jack Clifford (Harlequins), Maro Itoje (Saracens), Matt Kvesic (Gloucester Rugby)

Only four changes left and so much left to change with three changes alone going on the back row you can imagine how much more I have left to change.

Rob Webber has to call time on his England career, he isn’t up to the standard at the moment. His replacement fairly straight forward Dylan Hartley also my captain.

The playing side for Hartley is exemplary he is excellent in the loose an abrasive in the set piece a really good player. The behaviour does however border on thuggery at times and although this may seem contradictory this is why he would be my captain.

The hard edge that made Johnson, Dallaglio, Vickery and Back feared not just by the opposition but by the young players in their team for example a certain Jonny Wilkinson is something Hartley has in abundance.
One player that has to go purely due to the fact I feel he has offered little to the squad since his debut back in 2012 is South African born Brad Barritt.

He has not been good enough, hugely influential for his club and solid for England but not spectacular. Rather than induct another centre into the squad I would have a fly-half come in purely because I think Danny Cipriani. It is still a mystery to me how the Sale out half didn’t get selected for the World Cup following a great display in the warm-ups.

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Danny Cipriano training with England prior to their 2014 tour to New Zealand

His form for Sale has been wonderful and he is the reason his team can compete at such a high level this season for Ford and Farrell to be selected and he be left in the north west would be a travesty.

The one cap wonder Semesa Rokoduguni has to be in the squad, he must be having déja vu after once again a scintillating start to this season. His ability to either bash or dash his way to the try line make him a real asset to whatever team he is playing in be it Bath or England.

He would replace Jack Nowell, yes Nowell has been great for Exeter but the fact is he’s not quick enough to be an international winger. Exeter fans would disagree but look at the other three wingers I have picked Rokoduguni, Ashton and Watson would Nowell really trouble any of them in a foot race.

Scrum-half is a really tough place at the moment for England with four or five contenders for just three places. My choice would be to drop Wigglesworth for Joe Simpson.

Wasps although inconsistent have looked sharp in the backs and the catalyst for that is the lightning quick Simpson. His service isn’t bad either and that earns him a place alongside Youngs and Care.

That completes our changes:
OUT: Brad Barritt (Saracens), Jack Nowell (Exeter Chiefs), Rob Webber (Bath Rugby), Richard Wigglesworth (Saracens)
IN: Danny Cipriani (Sale Sharks), Dylan Hartley (Northampton Saints), Semesa Rokodugnuni (Bath Rugby), Joe Simpson (Wasps)

Notable mentions must go to Will Chudley who I hope to see on that plane to Australia in June. Dave Attwood who if he wasn’t injured would be in this squad at the expense of Parling. Dave Ewers and Thomas Waldrom both of whom would be in the squad if there was more space. Manu Tuilagi who had he played more would have been in the squad but he has been out of action for a long time and hasn’t starred for England since 2014.

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My England Squad for Six Nations

Bold indicates starting XV

Props: Dan Cole (Leicester Tigers), Jake Cooper Wooley (Wasps), Joe Marler (Harlequins), Mako Vunipola (Saracens), Davey Wilson (Bath Rugby)

Hookers: Jamie George (Saracens), Dylan Hartley (Captain, Northampton Saints), Tom Youngs (Leicester Tigers)

Locks: George Kruis (Saracens), Joe Launchbury (Wasps), Courtney Lawes (Northampton Saints), Geoff Parling (Exeter Chiefs)

Flankers: Jack Clifford (Harlequins), Maro Itoje (Saracens), Matt Kvesic (Gloucester Rugby), Tom Wood (Northampton Saints)

Number Eights: Ben Morgan (Gloucester Rugby), Billy Vunipola (Saracens)

Scrum-Halves: Danny Care (Harlequins), Joe Simpson (Wasps), Ben Youngs (Leicester Tigers)

Fly-Halves: Danny Cipriani (Sale Sharks), Owen Farrell (Saracens), George Ford (Bath Rugby)

Centres: Elliot Daly, Ben Jacobs (both Wasps, Jonathan Joseph (Bath Rugby)

Wings: Chris Ashton (Saracens), Semesa Rokoduguni, Anthony Watson (both Bath Rugby)

Fullbacks: Mike Brown (Harlequins), Alex Goode (Saracens)