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Aviva Premiership final preview: Wasps vs Chiefs, Gopperth vs Steenson

By Lee Calvert
Gopperth / Steenson (Photos: Getty Images)

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The Premiership season draws to a close this Saturday as Exeter take on Wasps in the showpiece final at Twickenham. So what to expect?

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The biggest surprise about the Aviva Premiership final isn’t so much the two teams playing in it but the one team that isn’t. Saracens looked more nailed on than Jesus on Good Friday to make the final, but instead suffered a reverse vs Exeter in the last minute of an epic semifinal that saw the Devon club reach their second final in a row. Handily for the Chiefs, they have already put away the team that beat them in the final last year and Saracens go into the summer with a whole new software rebuild in their central performance computer required.

In the other semi, Wasps overcame a spirited Leicester side, brought closer together in their response to the tragic news about club captain Tom Youngs’ wife to set up the clash between the teams that finished top two in the league on what promises to be the hottest day of the year in London.

Wasps have led the Aviva Premiership from the front for most of the back end of the season. They often look irresistible; their backline is packed full of talent and under coach Dai Young they are encouraged to play an attacking brand of rugby. But there has also been a brittle nature to them in the past month or so. They have been conceding plenty – even the Bristol attack put 21 past them last month – and struggling to put games to bed. On top of this their usually formidable attacking game has seemingly been replaced by a succession of handling errors and poor decision-making; in the semifinal, their lineout resembled a drunk rowing team taking turns to head-butt a pub ceiling.

Exeter, meanwhile, have been winning for a very long time, almost in spite of themselves. Their ability to score points only just outweighs their capacity to concede them – in their past five matches their average score is 33-22. But what these scorelines demonstrate is how Exeter’s game has evolved this season from the previously forward-dominated style to a more mixed, all-park attack. If nothing else, Exeter games are worth a watch just to gaze upon the litany of mesmerizingly awful haircuts that permeate their team.

Exeter’s forwards were towering in all aspects against Saracens, with the likes of Don Armand and Geoff Parling leading the way.  This pack will come up against a talented but smaller and less destructive Wasps eight featuring a back row low on form and the already mentioned problematic lineout. Expect the Exeter men to dominate in that area.

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Once it gets behind it is difficult to predict what will happen. Plenty of tries is a certainty with the likes of Dan Robson, Elliot Daly, Kurtley Beale, Danny Cipriani, Jimmy Gopperth and Christian Wade lining up for Wasps and the less heralded but equally effective Gareth Steenson, Olly Devoto, Jack Nowell, James Short and the criminally underrated fullback, Phil Dollman, for Exeter.

If recent Wasps form is a measure expect them to waste a significant amount of possession but still score tries, while Exeter will throw several interceptions but still manage to score more than 30 points. The last time these two played each other it finished in a 35-35 draw so it is not fanciful to say there will be plenty for the crowd to cheer about on either side during the 80 final minutes of the season.

It may ultimately become a kicking competition, and in a kick-for-kick shootout Gopperth probably beats Steenson – but Exeter’s pack power suggests they could win more penalties and get a few more shots.


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Go to Wasps v Exeter Chiefs Live Match Centre

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Aviva Premiership final preview: Wasps vs Chiefs, Gopperth vs Steenson

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