Exeter are one step away from immortality with the Double in reach, but Wasps are looking to spoil the party and seize back a trophy they last won 12 years ago
- Exeter face Wasps in the Premiership final at Twickenham going for the double
- The showpiece event will go ahead as originally planned after a Covid scare
- Weakened Wasps will try to stop Euro champions Exeter as they bid for glory
The Premiership’s fitting final will go ahead at Twickenham on Saturday evening, to salvage the credibility of the league after a week when Covid contingency plans were held up to ridicule.
Mercifully, the pandemic did not turn the domestic showpiece into a farce, as appeared a distinct possibility just a few days ago. Weakened Wasps contained their outbreak to earn a shot at Exeter’s Euro stars and the title, and the relief was palpable.
If there are to be play-offs this is what the decider should be — first v second. It won’t be perfect with nearly 82,000 empty seats at the national stadium and with underdogs forced to leave out several leading men, but at least they made it, preventing the absurdity of Bristol deputising despite a 47-24 semi-final drubbing.
Exeter are bidding for a stunning double as they face Wasps in the Premiership final
What awaits is a fascinating clash of styles and circumstances. Rob Baxter’s Chiefs beat Racing 92 last Saturday in an epic encounter to claim the Heineken Champions Cup for the first time and enhance their status as bona fide heavyweights of the game at home and in Europe. Their task is to scale another peak seven days on and justify their billing as clear favourites with vast pedigree, having appeared in the last four Premiership finals. A Double is within their reach.
Wasps are riding the wave of a fairytale revival and seeking to seize back a trophy they last won 12 years ago. Head coach Lee Blackett, the unsung mastermind of their transformation, has invoked Baxter’s own mantra about not just being glad to take part when winning is an option.
The loss of All Black centre Malakai Fekitoa to injury and pack stalwarts Brad Shields, Kieran Brookes and Simon McIntyre due to enforced isolation is a blow to Wasps’ hopes. But Blackett is bullish about their prospects and their resilience.
The Devonians conquered Europe last week after beating Racing 92 and are looking for more
Somehow, the outsiders must halt Exeter’s power and possession game by unleashing their master poachers led by the peerless England flanker-in-waiting, Jack Willis. The double Player of the Year award winner and Thomas Young will be at the forefront of Wasps’ bid to halt the Devon juggernaut with a breakdown onslaught.
The Chiefs’ close-range driving is a brutally effective weapon which has proved nigh-on impossible for opponents to repel. Asked how his side will try to do it, Wasps captain Joe Launchbury said: ‘Don’t give them lineouts five metres from our line — that’s the main plan! If you give them four or five shots, no matter how well you defend, the law of averages says they’re going to get over.
‘We will back ourselves to stop it a fair few times, but if you keep giving them access throughout the 80 minutes it will not end in your favour. What has served us so well is how aggressive we’ve been around the contact area. We see that as a point of difference so it would be crazy to shut up shop and not do that.’
The aggressive favourites will be determined to show Rob Baxter they don’t have a comedown
Aggression is a hallmark of Exeter’s dominant approach. Their challenge on Saturday is to prove to Baxter that they aren’t on a comedown after last week. He will urge his players not to let a chance to make history slip from their grasp.
‘As a coaching group, it’s up to us to challenge them about how they want to be remembered,’ he said. ‘I said to the lads “How do you want to be feeling after the game? Do you want an 80 minutes that could define your career slip by you or are you going to stand and fight now?”.
‘It’s about taking some personal responsibility. The party is on hold until next week.’