Full-strength Wasps seek to make semi-final history at Sandy Park
Wasps seek to overturn the weight of history tomorrow at Sandy Park and in the process reach a first Premiership final since 2008.
Only five of 23 semi-finals have been won by the away team since English rugby's top-flight adopted an end-of-season play-off structure 11 years ago. After seven visits, Dai Young's team are also yet to claim their first win at the Chiefs' home , where they fell to a comprehensive 24-3 defeat earlier this month.
However, since then Wasps have been buoyed by a much-needed week off, which has given the opportunity for a number of players to recover from minor knocks. This means they are able to select their strongest starting XV, with Jake Cooper-Woolley at tight head prop, while Dan Robson is preferred to Joe Simpson at scrum half.
Unless a trip to Twickenham follows, inside centre Siale Piutau, who was a fitness doubt earlier in the week, joins his brother Charles, Bradley Davies, Carlo Festuccia and George Smith in making their final Wasps' appearances.
Simpson, full back Rob Miller and Ruaridh Jackson are joined on the bench by five forwards including in-form trio Ashley Johnson, Sam Jones and Lorenzo Cittadini. Wasps' director of rugby Dai Young said: "the boys have trained really well since having a few days off after the rigours of Europe. They have trained with real energy and excitement this week and we're all looking forward to the Premiership semi-final.
"We are hugely respectful of Exeter and everything they've achieved. We've already played three times this season, so both sides know each other pretty well. Exeter are 2-1 up so far, so we know how many threats they have and the challenge ahead of us at Sandy Park. "We're underdogs going into this away game, but we're comfortable with that and know we can cause any team problems on our day. We will have to be at our very best if we are to get the result we want, but I'm confident in our squad's ability."
Exeter's starting line-up is unchanged from the team which saw Wasps off three weeks ago, when their defensive line-speed never allowed the visitors to get a foothold in the match. Back three trio Phil Dolman, Jack Nowell and Ollie Woodburn offer a threat with ball in hand, but subduing Exeter's pick-and-drive and driving lineout and restricting Gareth Steenson's goal-kicking opportunities will be higher on Young's priority list.
The Chiefs also come into today's match on the back of a week's break, which followed hot-on-the-heels of their demolition of Harlequins, however boss Rob Baxter believes the semi-final is a one-off game which renders previous results irrelevant.
"In theory it's the biggest game for both sides," said the Exeter leader. "As clubs we've worked incredibly hard all season to get here and to get to this point, so I can't imagine any of us will want to give it up without a real fight. "Both ourselves and Wasps know a fair bit about each others games, but there's also that opportunity to bring in the odd thing that's a bit different. I'm sure both of us will look to do that, but it's also about making the most of what we have got and how we play. "Now is not the time to be trying to find magic answers because a lot of the time there are not too many of those answers around.
The reality is over 80 minutes you need to win the work-rate and physicality battles first and foremost. "That's where we've been good over the last couple of weeks, the 15 on the pitch have understood their roles and executed them very well. You don't go into a semi-final now and start to try and change things and overcompensate for things – what a good team does now is lock down and do their roles extremely well."
Exeter: Phil Dollman; Jack Nowell, Henry Slade, Ian Whitten, Olly Woodburn; Gareth Steenson, Will Chudley; Ben Moon, Luke Cowan-Dickie, Harry Williams; Mitch Lees, Geoff Parling; Dave Ewers, Julian Salvi, Don Armand.
Replacements: Jack Yeandle, Alec Hepburn, Tomas Francis, Ollie Atkins, Thomas Waldrom, Dave Lewis, Sam Hill, James Short.
Wasps: Charles Piutau; Christian Wade, Elliot Daly, Siale Piutau, Frank Halai; Jimmy Gopperth, Dan Robson; Matt Mullan, Carlo Festuccia, Jake Cooper-Woolley; Joe Launchbury, Bradley Davies; James Haskell, George Smith, Nathan Hughes.
Replacements: Ashley Johnson, Simon McIntyre, Lorenzo Cittadini, Will Rowlands, Sam Jones, Joe Simpson, Ruaridh Jackson, Rob Miller.
Referee: Greg Garner
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