EXETER Chiefs will look to continue their excellent start to this season’s Premiership Rugby Cup as they welcome London Scottish to Sandy Park tomorrow in their penultimate group match (3pm), writes Jack Lewis.
After another positive performance last weekend against Jersey Reds, in what was incredibly sadly the final match before the island club cease trading, Exeter will be keen to keep moving forward against more Championship opposition.
Head coach Ali Hepher knows what it takes to be successful in this competition and is under no illusions about the challenge that lies in wait.
“They’re a tough side, I know they haven’t necessarily got over the line, but they pushed a very good Bath team early in the game. They’re well organised, they’re well coached but we’ve just got to focus on our stuff and what we get right, there is a focus on a few areas that we’ve got to tidy up following the match against Jersey," he said.
"We have had a bit of plan approaching each week of the Premiership Cup competition but first and foremost we want to win our group and obviously the ultimate aim is to go on and win the competition.
"Of course, part of you is keeping one eye on the league season to make sure our preparation is right for the Premiership, so we can hit the ground running, but right here and now our focus is this weekend.”
Hepher was quick to praise the performances of many of the players who have taken to the field throughout the Premiership Cup campaign so far, with notable highlights for the work of Harvey Skinner, Josh Hodge and Tommy Wyatt, who have all shone in some eye-catching high-scoring displays.
However, it wasn’t just the backline who received the admiration of Hepher.
“The competition across the back row is phenomenally difficult, we’ve got Greg Fisilau up and running, Ethan Roots has come in and gone well and of course we know what Jacques (Vermeulen) can do. Ross Vintcent looks pacey, he’s almost up there with Sam Simmonds pace wise, so we’re looking at a lot of quality guys in that area.
“Obviously one of the pleasing things coming out of this block has been the scrum and the work that Ross McMillan has done with the guys in that area throughout the pre-season.
"When we analysed last year it was a tricky area for us, but if we can get a change in picture there going into this season, we won’t be far off challenging for those top-four places.”
The value placed on this competition by the Chiefs is clear to see, and after raising the trophy last season, Hepher and the rest of the Exeter coaches will be pleased with the intensity shown across the squads who have taken to the field so far.
“What you get with this competition and the old A-League is people pushing for places, and you also tend to get first-team players stood on the sidelines watching, knowing that their place isn’t secure because there is someone else chomping at the bit.
"Selection and competition for selection is huge, plus it also breeds the idea of winning competitions and lifting trophies for some of these younger guys.”
Taking on London Scottish is perhaps the youngest and most experimental teamsheet of the competition for the Chiefs, with a number of young faces ready to make a statement back at Sandy Park on Saturday.
Youngster Zack Wimbush comes into the outside centre position for his first opportunity of the season, with Dan John and Arthur Relton slotting in at full-back and wing respectively, having already represented Cornish Pirates in the cup this season.
In the pack, up-and-coming star Joe Bailey, fresh from a tour with England U20s in the summer, is named at number seven in a mobile back row alongside Vintcent and Aidon Davis.
Meanwhile, Chiefs fans will be pleased to see Marcus Street back on the bench for the first time this season, with the powerful tight-head looking to put injury troubles behind him and get back to the sort of form that saw him burst into the Chiefs set-up a couple of seasons ago.
London Scottish have made seven changes to the starting XV that took on Bath a week ago.
Harlequins' Tyrone Green joins the club on loan to make his first appearance for London Scottish as he makes his way back from injury.
George Cave, Jack Musk and Zach Carr all step up to the starting side having all came off the bench the week before. They are joined by Jonny Law and Hayden Hyde, who are promoted off the bench to make a start at Sandy Park.
Cassius Cleaves also returns to the club on loan to make his first start of the season. On the bench, Tom Osborne will also make his first appearance for the club this season.
Exeter Chiefs: Dan John, Immanuel Feyi-Waboso, Zack Wimbush, Ollie Devoto (capt), Arthur Relton, Will Haydon-Wood, Niall Armstrong, Danny Southworth, Max Norey, Patrick Schickerling, Jack Dunne, Matt Postlethwaite, Aidon Davis, Joe Bailey, Ross Vintcent. Replacements: Oli Burrows, James Kenny, Marcus Street, Alfie Bell, Rus Tuima, Joe Snow, Harvey Skinner, Tom Hendrickson.
London Scottish: Tyrone Green, Will Brown, Hayden Hyde, Ben Waghorn, Cassius Cleaves, Alec Lloyd-Seed, Jonny Law, George Cave, Jack Musk, Ashley Challenger, Harry Browne, Jonny Green, Bailey Ransom (capt), Will Trenholm, Zach Carr. Replacements: Austin Wallis, Tom Osborne, Rhys Charalambous, Silas Pill, Lewis Barrett, Stephen Kerins, Robbie McCallum, Cameron Anderson.