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Exeter keep two of their Six Nations contingent on the bench despite 14 changes to their XV to play Lyon

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by INPHO via EPCR)

Defending Heineken Champions Cup champions Exeter have made 14 changes to their round of 16 XV to face Lyon on Saturday but two of their Guinness Six Nations contingent have only made the bench for the Anglo-French Sandy Park clash following last weekend’s 34-18 loss to Gloucester in the Gallagher Premiership.

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The Chiefs had travelled to Kingsholm with a shadow line-up and were always going to shake things up for a European knockout match where the prize for the winners is a home quarter-final next weekend against the winners of the Leinster versus Toulon tie in Dublin, but there is now concern about that last-eight fixture following the cancellation of the Good Friday game in Ireland less than five hours before its scheduled kickoff.      

Coach Rob Baxter has recalled Scotland’s Stuart Hogg and Jonny Gray, as well as England trio Luke Cowan-Dickie, Jonny Hill and Henry Slade for what is only the second time Exeter will take the field this season defending the European title they won in last October’s Champions Cup final versus Racing. 

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Exeter opened their Champions Cup account with a December win over Glasgow but their other three pool matches were cancelled due to the pandemic and the tournament organisers are now restarting the competition with a straight knockout format. 

While five of the Exeter Six Nations guns will start versus Lyon, Wales Six Nations title winner Tomas Francis has been kept in reserve as has Sam Skinner, who started for Scotland in their win over France last weekend. Olly Woodburn is the only player from last weekend’s loss at Kingsholm to keep his place in the Exeter XV.  

“This is where the really exciting part of the season starts,” said Baxter. “We have now got the whole squad back together post-Six Nations and as a group, we are excited for what lies ahead. In their absence, everyone who has been here has helped to put the club exactly where we want to be.

“We are second in the Premiership, so that means it is in our hands if we want to finish in the top two and get that home semi-final, and we are in the knockout stages of the Heineken Cup. Add to that, the sun is shining, the pitching is firming up, so we cannot ask for any more than that at this stage.

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“It’s all or nothing now. It’s knockout rugby from here on in. Yes, it has come a bit earlier than normal, but this is the kind of challenge you expect to face when you are in the Heineken Cup. For us, we see this as a very exciting challenge and one to really go after.”

EXETER: 15. Stuart Hogg; 14. Olly Woodburn, 13. Henry Slade, 12. Ollie Devoto, 11. Tom O’Flaherty; 10. Joe Simmonds (capt), 9. Jack Maunder; 1. Alec Hepburn, 2. Luke Cowan-Dickie, 3. Harry Williams, 4. Jonny Gray, 5. Jonny Hill, 6. Dave Ewers, 7. Jacques Vermeulen, 8. Sam Simmonds. Reps: 16. Jack Yeandle, 17. Ben Moon, 18. Tomas Francis, 19. Sam Skinner, 20. Jannes Kirsten, 21. Stu Townsend, 22. Harvey Skinner, 23. Ian Whitten.

LYON: 15. Toby Arnold; 14. Xavier Mignot, 13. Pierre-Louis Barassi, 12. Charlie Ngatai (capt), 11. Noa Nakaitaci; 10. Jonathan Wisniewski, 9. Baptiste Couilloud; 1. Vivien Devisme, 2. Jeremie Maurouard, 3. Francisco Gomez Kodela, 4. Felix Lambey, 5. Izack Jon Rodda, 6. Dylan Cretin, 7. Colby Fainga’a, 8. Patrick Sobela. Reps: 16. Mickael Ivaldi, 17. Xavier Chiocci, 18. Joe Taufete’e, 19. Mickael Guillard, 20. Alex Tulou, 21. Jean-Marc Doussain, 22. Thibaut Regard, 23. Clement Laporte.

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Jon 1 days ago
Why Sam Cane's path to retirement is perfect for him and the All Blacks

> It would be best described as an elegant solution to what was potentially going to be a significant problem for new All Blacks coach Scott Robertson. It is a problem the mad population of New Zealand will have to cope with more and more as All Blacks are able to continue their careers in NZ post RWCs. It will not be a problem for coaches, who are always going to start a campaign with the captain for the next WC in mind. > Cane, despite his warrior spirit, his undoubted commitment to every team he played for and unforgettable heroics against Ireland in last year’s World Cup quarter-final, was never unanimously admired or respected within New Zealand while he was in the role. Neither was McCaw, he was considered far too passive a captain and then out of form until his last world cup where everyone opinions changed, just like they would have if Cane had won the WC. > It was never easy to see where Cane, or even if, he would fit into Robertson’s squad given the new coach will want to be building a new-look team with 2027 in mind. > Cane will win his selections on merit and come the end of the year, he’ll sign off, he hopes, with 100 caps and maybe even, at last, universal public appreciation for what was a special career. No, he won’t. Those returning from Japan have already earned the right to retain their jersey, it’s in their contract. Cane would have been playing against England if he was ready, and found it very hard to keep his place. Perform, and they keep it however. Very easy to see where Cane could have fit, very hard to see how he could have accomplished it choosing this year as his sabbatical instead of 2025, and that’s how it played out (though I assume we now know what when NZR said they were allowing him to move his sabbatical forward and return to NZ next year, they had actually agreed to simply select him for the All Blacks from overseas, without any chance he was going to play in NZ again). With a mammoth season of 15 All Black games they might as well get some value out of his years contract, though even with him being of equal character to Richie, I don’t think they should guarantee him his 100 caps. That’s not what the All Blacks should be about. He absolutely has to play winning football.

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