Big Match Preview: Gloucester Rugby v Exeter Chiefs
Gallagher Premiership Rugby returns with a bang this weekend, as league leaders Exeter Chiefs travel to Gloucester Rugby.
Kingsholm hosts the match under the Friday night lights, and the BT Sport cameras, as the Cherry & Whites look for their first win in three.
The 2017 champions will be concerned by their away form in the league having suffered defeats to Northampton Saints and Harlequins in the last two away from Sandy Park.
Gloucester’s chances will be boosted by Exeter’s England contingent being away on Six Nations duty.
What’s at stake?
Exeter know Saracens are breathing down their necks, so any dropped points could see them lose the top spot.
They have a four-point advantage in the table but it could easily be squandered if they fail to win and the Gallagher Premiership Rugby champions take advantage against Leicester Tigers.
Chiefs play first, on Friday before Saracens’ game on Sunday, so they will be able to pile the pressure on if they win.
For Gloucester a win is imperative as they look to stay at the head of the chasing pack and in pole position for a place in the semi-finals.
A win could see them leapfrog Harlequins into third, but a negative result could see them slide down the Premiership Rugby table with third to tenth only separated by eight points.
Form so far?
As previously mentioned, Exeter have struggled away from Sandy Park in recent months.
Their last away win was at Bristol on November 18, even then it was only by two points as a last-gasp penalty try saw them snatch a victory.
They have also conceded more than 17 points in every away match in Gallagher Premiership Rugby this term.
Gloucester have wobbled in recent domestic rounds, with back-to-back defeats to Sale Sharks and Leicester leaving them struggling for form.
They have struggled all season to put together a series of wins – with their best run being two back-to-back wins.
While the two teams split their European double-header in December, both winning on the road, it was Exeter who took the victory in their last league meeting in November.
There were tries for Nic White and Alex Cuthbert as Exeter took a 23-6 triumph.
Danny Cipriani had given the visitors a perfect start at Sandy Park as his two earlier penalties gave them advantage early on.
But from then on it was all Chiefs, with Gareth Steenson chipping into the lead with a penalty, before assisting with the only try of the first half.
He kicked the ball wide to who advanced into the 22 before offloading to scrum-half White as he raced in.
Gloucester pushed hard after the break but Cuthbert pounced to intercept out wide and run in from 80 metres out prior to two more Steenson penalties.
Historically Exeter have had the best of the fixture with nine wins to Gloucester’s seven, with one draw.
They also have the advantage in tries, with 39 to the Cherry and Whites’ 32, and points with 419 to 346.
The last five matches have also been in favour of the Devon side, with three wins compared to Gloucester’s two.
Such is the strength in depth of the Chiefs, there will still be a host of their star names on show despite Six Nations action.
Props Alec Hepburn and Harry Williams could both feature while all-action skipper Don Armand will look to steer his side to another domestic win.
In the backline names to look out for include Ollie Devoto, Alex Cuthbert and Santiago Cordero – who have been integral to the Chiefs when they spread the ball wide.
They have 50 tries so far this season, more than any other club, which have helped them to nine try-bonus points – as they have built a difference between them and Saracens in the table.
Gloucester have not been left to struggle with players on international duty, so expect to winger Ollie Thorley to feature at Kingsholm.
He has made spectacular tries his trademark with four tries so far this year – including doubles against Leicester and Worcester.
Thorley, who had his first call up for England prior to the Six Nations, has 419 metres made on 44 carries this season, including 11 clean breaks and 23 defenders beaten.
Stalwart No.8 Ben Morgan has also been in good form for the Cherry & Whites in Gallagher Premiership Rugby, featuring in every game so far.
He has 119 tackles and seven turnovers won as well as 142 carries for 326 metres.