Wasps Rugby against Exeter Chiefs is like ‘an unstoppable force colliding with an immovable object, and that is symbolic of the intensity fans can expect when the Aviva Premiership trophy is fought over.
Exeter Chiefs will return to Twickenham for the second time in the last 12 months. Wasps meanwhile, are returning for the first time since 2008, after topping the table and as such will wear their home strip.
Exeter produced a season best performance to overcome defending champions Saracens at Sandy Park last weekend. Wasps on the other hand, toppled a fierce challenge from Leicester, thanks to sheer perseverance and desire.
In this grand final, outright class coupled with the right psychological application will be necessary to lift the Aviva Premiership trophy this Saturday.
Exeter Chiefs and their record setting run has them down as favourites despite finishing in second place. But Wasps have aspirations to bring the halcyon days of the past back to Coventry, and within their side, they have the tools to do so.
Attack, Attack, Attack!
Do either side know any other way? Wasps and Exeter Chiefs have scored more points and more tries than any other team this season. Wasps flyer Christian Wade is the leading try scorer with 17, and his nearest competition comes from Exeter’s own James Short.
The side in black and yellow have also made more clean breaks and beaten more defenders than any other team in the league, so attack is on their mind.
Occasions affluent in attacking talent can often flounder, in this instance however I can’t see that happening. A 33-30 score line is more likely than a 12-9 kicking shootout, given how these two outfits play. No longer will the feature of the Premiership be a ‘safe as’ approach.
Where Exeter Hold the Edge
In a phrase: the set-piece. The Exeter Chiefs didn’t lose a scrum or lineout in their 18-16 win over Saracens at Sandy Park, and have looked strong for most of this 2016/17 season.
That allowed them to execute the possession base game plan they love to do. Rob Baxter’s side simply ‘love to have the ball’ and are content to go through phase after phase, searching for the gap. If they don’t make much territory, so what? The law of averages suggests sooner or later a gap will open up, and the likes of Jack Nowell, Phil Dollman and Thomas Waldrom don’t need a second invitation.
The Chiefs also broadcast their famous versatility at Sandy Park. A team who kick more than anyone else in-fact kept the ball in hand–knowing full well Saracens would capitalize, had they put the ball in the air.
The likes of Dollman and Nowell continued to find holes, and they may well do so again this Saturday. That’s not a criticism of the Wasps defense, just a compliment to how well Exeter and their personnel are playing. It’s no secret, the Exeter Chiefs freight train is rolling at a serious rate of knots….having not lost since October 2016!
Wasps in the mid 2000’s were famed for timing their run toward the title – how ironic it may be then, that having sat top-of-the-table for so long, an Exeter side playing as fluid as they are, could ‘pip them’ to the crown.
Will Wasps Beat Themselves?
For all the ecstasy that came with Josh Bassett’s 78th minute try last weekend, there was still an undercurrent of immense relief.
Wasps, who hadn’t lost at home all season, had their fine record seriously under fire by rivals Leicester. However, inaccuracies in many aspects of their game, will have been of concern to Dai Young.
Undoubtedly, they are this season’s great entertainers but too often, Wasps looked for passes and offloads that simply weren’t on. In any old regular season game; against Bristol and Sale, those kinds of plays are plausible and look great when they pay off.
Saturday, on the big stage, Wasps need to play the percentages. Of course there is time for maverick magic–don’t sign Danny Cipriani, and not expect some exciting play after all.
Their lineout for example, highlighted their flaws and the stark contrast between them and Exeter at present. Following Henry Slade’s sensational ‘kick for the ages’ Exeter won their own lineout, and that allowed Sam Simmonds to crash over. Perfection personified.
In similar circumstances, and a similar time in the game [Wasps v Leicester] Tommy Taylor threw in five metres from the Tigers try line, and Wasps failed to recover. In fact they only won 73% of their lineouts, and numbers like that need to be addressed if they have any chance of winning under the pressure of expectation.
The Grand Final, the Spectacle and the Best Teams in the Land
It is the first time since 2013 that Saracens won’t contest the Aviva Premiership final, but expect to lose nothing in their absence. Some people see these sides as the second and third best teams in the land; after Saracens, and to a degree they may well be right–Sarries won the Champions Cup, yes.
But in terms of attacking rugby that gets fans excited, English Rugby couldn’t wish for two better teams. The grand final, the spectacle and the best teams in the land. And the cast is phenomenal: Cipriani, Nowell, Willie Le Roux, Waldrom, Elliot Daly.
The bookies have Exeter Chiefs down as favourites and that is probably about right–given the form they carry into this showpiece. Both sides have dominated the numbers charts throughout the season (as seen above) and let’s hope that continues for another 80 minutes before all rugby fans forget their allegiances, and follow the British and Irish Lions this summer.
For this rugby fan, it’s simple: if Wasps play above 90% capacity, they win, hands down. Problem is….Wasps have hit their maximum maybe three or four times this year, whilst Exeter Chiefs have been performing above 90% for the last two months. Each will be super competitive, no doubt, as they aim to raise the Aviva Premiership trophy high.
Man for man Wasps look the part, but since when do Baxter and the Exeter Chiefs care about ‘looking the part’.
May the best team win.
New LWOR Poll Question:
“Main photo credit”