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Exeter roll back the years with their Slade positional switch

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)

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Playoff-chasing Exeter have turned the clock back five years regarding Henry Slade and the role the England midfielder will play in this Sunday’s Gallagher Premiership match at arch-rivals Saracens. With just three matches remaining, the fourth-place Chiefs are in must-win territory if they are to keep alive their prospects of reaching the semi-finals.

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Exeter have progressed to the last six successive league finals, lifting the title twice, but they have rolled the dice ahead of Sunday’s visit to London as they have named Slade at out-half and demoted Joe Simmonds, their double-winning skipper of 2020, to the bench. 

The form this season of Simmonds for Exeter hasn’t been great. He said as much in a recent interview with RugbyPass and having failed to catch fire in last weekend’s European loss at Munster, he now drops to the replacements to accommodate the bold move of Rob Baxter regarding Slade.

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Not since an April 2017 win at Harlequins has Slade, the regular Exeter outside centre, been chosen as their starting No10 but that five-year gap will end back in London with the Chiefs looking for an invaluable win over Saracens.  

With Slade moving in from the midfield and Simmonds benched, Tom Hendrickson will start at inside centre and Ian Whitten, last Saturday’s No12 in Limerick, will move out and fill Slade’s outside centre berth. In the pack, Marcus Street will start at tighthead for Harry Williams while Richard Capstick is in the back row for Dave Ewers.

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Saracens, meanwhile, have made eight changes following their progress to the Challenge Cup quarter-finals with last Sunday’s win over Cardiff. Six are in a pack where Maro Itoje has been rested. Eroni Mawi for Richard Barrington, Jamie George for Kapeli Pifeleti and Vincent Koch for Alec Clarey mean an entirely different front row, Nick Isiekwe is in at lock for Itoje, while the back row sees Theo McFarland come in for Andy Christie and Billy Vunipola take over from Jackson Wray.  

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In the backs, the changes are Nick Tompkins for Duncan Taylor and Elliot Daly for Dom Morris. “We have had really good preparation leading into it and I’m sure they [Exeter] have had the same,” said Saracens hooker George. “They are a team we respect massively and a team we also love playing against because it brings the best out of both sides.”

SARACENS: 15. Alex Goode; 14. Max Malins, 13. Elliot Daly, 12. Nick Tompkins, 11. Sean Maitland; 10. Owen Farrell (capt), 9. Aled Davies; 1. Eroni Mawi, 2. Jamie George, 3. Vincent Koch, 4. Nick Isiekwe, 5. Tim Swinson, 6. Theo McFarland, 7. Ben Earl. 8. Billy Vunipola. Reps: 16. Kapeli Pifeleti, 17. Richard Barrington, 18. Alec Clarey, 19. Jackson Wray, 20. Andy Christie, 21. Ivan van Zyl, 22. Duncan Taylor, 23. Alex Lewington.

EXETER: 15. Stuart Hogg; 14. Olly Woodburn, 13. Ian Whitten, 12. Tom Hendrickson, 11. Tom O’Flaherty; 10. Henry Slade, 9. Sam Maunder; 1. Alec Hepburn, 2. Jack Yeandle (capt), 3. Marcus Street, 4. Jonny Gray, 5. Sam Skinner, 6. Jannes Kirsten, 7. Richard Capstick, 8. Jacques Vermeulen. Reps: 16. Jack Innard, 17. Billy Keast, 18. Patrick Schickerling, 19. Dafydd Jenkins, 20. Santiago Grondona, 21. Stu Townsend, 22. Joe Simmonds, 23. Josh Hodge.

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