Exeter face an early test of their title credentials when they travel to London to face a strong Wasps side on Saturday. The Chiefs thrashed Leicester in their opener to surge to the top of the table, but they face an altogether sterner challenge this coming weekend.
They are still smarting from last season’s Grand Final defeat at the hands of Saracens, and they are itching to make amends, so they should be dangerous in the early weeks of the campaign. But Wasps proved they are up for a battle when they scraped a narrow victory over Worcester in their opener, so it should prove to be an entertaining showdown.
Read a BetOnline review and find the best Premiership rugby odds on the market and you will see that Saracens are the favourites to win the title this season, while Exeter are second favourites and Wasps are third in the betting.
This therefore represents an early chance for both teams to lay down a marker for a glorious season. Wasps were unconvincing in that 21-20 win over unfancied Worcester, who are the odds-on favourites to finish bottom of the league this season. Director of rugby Dai Young conceded Wasps were “nowhere near perfect” and demanded more of his troops going forwards.
Had Duncan Weir not blown a glorious opportunity to win the game, Wasps would have begun the season with a humbling and somewhat embarrassing defeat.
“If you would have given me a one-point win before the game I would have accepted it,” said Young. “I knew it was going to be a tough game. The first game is always tough and we knew we would be up against it. In fairness to them, they forced us into a lot of errors and we made a lot of unforced errors as well, which gave them a deserved 13-point lead. We came out second half and that game could have gone either way really, but we found a way to get our noses in front. There are a lot of things to work on. It was nowhere near the perfect performance. But we found a way to dig in and come away with the result we wanted.”
They will have to dig in extremely hard if they are to repel an Exeter team that finished eight points clear of Saracens to top the table last season. Yet Wasps can take inspiration from the 13-7 victory they secured against the Chiefs in February, where they soaked up pressure well and prevailed in a ferocious arm wrestle.
They are poised to unleash Super Rugby recruits Lima Sopoaga and Brad Shields on Exeter on Saturday, and million-dollar man Sopoaga is expected to provide added sting in Wasps’ tail.
He will have to step up and replace Danny Cipriani, who was a forced to be reckoned in that role for Wasps last season, but he certainly has the ability to pull it off.
Exeter sent out an ominous warning to their rivals with that thumping victory over Leicester. It is a mark of how far they have progressed in recent years that the win over a good team felt so routine. They ran in six tries against the Tigers, who were packed full of England internationals but made to look weak in the face of Exeter’s dominance. Matt Kvesic has had a tough time of it recently, but he was on fire in this game.
“We’re starting to see the real Matt Kvesic again,” said Rob Baxter, Exeter’s director of rugby. “He looks like a man who’s been denied food. He wants his fill of rugby.”
The first week of the season suggested that Exeter and Saracens will once again compete for the title in May. The Chiefs have won 12 of their last 18 games against Wasps, and another victory here would give everyone at the club a massive psychological boost. But Wasps could thrive if they shake off their rustiness and push Sopoaga to reach his full potential, so it should be an enthralling game.
Sign up to our mailing list here and we’ll keep you up to the minute with weekly updates from the world of rugby.