Ex­eter Chiefs - 2nd

The Rugby Paper - - Feature -

The Chiefs en­dured a rocky start with just two wins in their first seven Premier­ship games in­clud­ing home de­feats to Sara­cens and Bath and away to Saints and Wasps with a draw at Glouces­ter. There were some who per­haps thought their bub­ble had burst. But hav­ing dusted them­selves off they stormed back to win­ning ways ei­ther side of Christ­mas and in the last nine games of the sea­son reeled off eight wins and a draw with a bonus point in ev­ery game, a Premier­ship record. There was too much qual­ity in the team not to click at some stage and another im­por­tant fac­tor is that hith­erto the Chiefs seem to lose less star play­ers dur­ing the Novem­ber and Six Na­tions win­dows. They come into the play-offs in prime at­tack­ing form and af­ter a long run-in should also ben­e­fit from the week’s rest while Sara­cens con­test the Euro­pean Cup fi­nal. STAND-OUTS: With just four play­ers in the Eng­land squad to tour Ar­gentina and only Jack Now­ell on the Lions tour the Chiefs still strug­gle a lit­tle to at­tract the at­ten­tion of na­tional se­lec­tors but that is al­most a com­ple­ment to their team ethic. A clutch of play­ers are par­tic­u­larly vi­tal to the cause though – Gareth Steen­son, Luke Cowan-Dickie, Thomas Wal­drom and Henry Slade, while both Olly Wood­burn and James Short have en­joyed star­tling sea­sons out wide. STRENGTHS: In the reg­u­lar sea­son the Chiefs not only made the most car­ries (3,209) but also the most passes (3,730). Their at­tack­ing game is all about ball in hand con­ti­nu­ity and pa­tience be­fore they ruth­lessly strike. This is al­lied to a strong scrum, ef­fi­cient line-out and half-backs who rarely fail to de­liver. WEAK­NESSES: Like Wasps, Ex­eter al­ways back them­selves and give it the full monty in at­tack which can re­sult in them in leak­ing too many tries for com­fort – 55 in the reg­u­lar sea­son. The op­po­si­tion are al­ways like to score a few points and if they get away to a fly­ing start – as Sara­cens did in the fi­nal last year – it can be a hair-rais­ing busi­ness pulling them back. COACH’S COR­NER: Rob Bax­ter treats the twin im­posters ex­actly the same, stayed com­mend­ably cool dur­ing a dodgy start, stuck to his guns and was re­warded with a sen­sa­tional se­cond half of the sea­son from his troops. Al­lows al­ready very good play­ers to ex­press them­selves and reach for an even higher level. MIR­A­CLE MAN: A lot of skil­ful play mak­ers and uber com­pe­tent all-rounders rather than su­per­stars, but when the Chiefs re­ally need some­thing spe­cial – ei­ther in at­tack or de­fence – Jack Now­ell, left, is of­ten the man. PRE­DIC­TION: Ok I’m go­ing for it, I fancy they might just pull off the most fa­mous win in their his­tory and beat Sara­cens at Sandy Park to set-up an allsing­ing all-danc­ing fi­nal against Wasps. Run­ners-up.

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