We take a look at the talking points ahead of Saturday’s Premiership final between Exeter Chiefs and Wasps at Twickenham…
Wasps cleared to play….but at what cost?
To the relief of all involved with Premiership rugby – most notably and obviously Wasps – news was forthcoming on Wednesday that Lee Blackett’s side would be able to take part in Saturday’s Premiership final at Twickenham.
Their place had been under considerable doubt due to seven positive Covid-19 cases (four players, three staff) returned in screening done last week, and then an additional four from tests on Saturday.
Indeed, news was widespread that Bristol Bears – the side Wasps had beaten 47-24 in the Premiership semi-finals to make the final – were on standby and ready to take Wasps’ place. Bears coach Pat Lam even gave interviews confirming as much.
On Tuesday a further round of Covid-19 tests were undertaken, and on Wednesday morning, Wasps could confirm no further positive results.
“The team will now return to training in preparation for Saturday’s Premiership final. The club’s Covid-19 contact tracing, measures and protocols, which remain rigorous, will continue to be adhered to,” a statement read.
Stephen Vaughan, Wasps CEO, added: “To all of our fans and well-wishers, thank you for your many messages of support, this final is for you!”
The immediate reaction will be one of relief, but though Wasps will now, quite rightly, take their place in the final, what cost has it come at?
Indeed, the squad have been unable to train together for some 12 days, while we await team selection to know how badly the side has been hit, and in which positions. On Thursday, Blackett confirmed 11 players will certainly be missing, between those tested positive and close contacts.
In their first final since 2017, Wasps’ preparations have been non-existent, and simply due to the times and circumstances we are in.
The stresses for all those working at the club over the last fortnight, must have been unbelievable at times.
Such a period could, on the other hand, galvanise the group to go on and seal an unlikely title victory. But you would have to imagine it is far more likely to negatively disrupt a side due to face the newly-crowned European champions.
A Chiefs hangover or one last push?
Last Saturday, Exeter Chiefs achieved what even four or five years ago would have seemed an impossibility. More recently, it would still have been viewed as something highly improbable.
A club which 10 years ago was battling to get out of the Championship, 15 years ago was sharing its stadium with a speedway team and 30 years ago finished below the Met Police in the third tier of English rugby, went on to become the European champions for 2020.
It is an extraordinary sporting tale. Exeter had never even experienced top-flight European rugby until 2013, while they only ever sampled the knockout stages once before this year, losing in the quarter-finals in 2016.
On the domestic front, Exeter have been more of a consistent force and Saturday’s showpiece at Twickenham will be their fifth Premiership final in succession.
Their scourge has been Saracens – Premiership winners in 2016, 2018 and 2019, having beaten Chiefs in the final on each of those occasions. A Saracens side we now all know was illegally assembled.
With a historic Champions Cup already secured, Exeter now set their sights on a remarkable double. But do they have it in them for one last push?
Having reached the summit of European rugby last week, they must put celebrations and elation to one side ahead of facing a seriously-motivated Wasps.
Could the Chiefs – who were far from their best in victory over Racing 92 at Ashton Gate last week – emerge with something of a hangover at Twickenham? Or will they be firing on all cylinders?
So what of the recent meetings between these two?
Over the last six seasons, their records are extremely even. Indeed, disregarding the Anglo-Welsh Cup, they have met on 15 occasions in that timespan.
Of those, Exeter have won eight, Wasps have won six and there has been one draw.
Both sides have beaten each other home and away, and both have beaten each other in knockout games: Exeter in a 2015/16 Premiership semi-final, Wasps in a 2015/16 Champions Cup quarter-final, while in the 2016/17 Premiership final, Wasps looked to have had it won, only for Exeter to take it to extra-time and win by a penalty.
Their most recent meeting saw Wasps dispatch the Chiefs 46-5 at the Ricoh Arena on the final day of the regular season, but this result can largely be discounted due to the fact Exeter sent a reserve side to Coventry, already assured of top spot in the Premiership and with a Champions Cup final on the horizon.
Even still, the last four seasons in succession have seen the sides register a victory apiece.
The Chiefs may be a fearsome prospect, and Wasps’ preparations could hardly have been worse, but on paper this one is tight to call.
We will, of course, know far more once the respective teams are announced.
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