Saturday 14 February 2015 – 4.30pm
Sandy Park, Exeter
Aviva Premiership #14
At the start of the season, one might have expected that the Falcons would be heading south this weekend looking to avoid a St Valentine’s Day Massacre. But as it has turned out, we actually have genuine hope of a first-ever win at Sandy Park.
That’s no reflection on Exeter, who are enjoying another solid season in the Premiership and currently sit in joint-fifth place with Leicester, just a point off the playoffs, but rather shows the optimism around Kingston Park at the moment. We are on a run of six successive try bonus points at the moment, and while that may be hoping for too much tomorrow, a victory is not out of the question.
Whatever happens, we should be grateful to the Chiefs for continuing to make the case for relegation to continue, and also providing the blueprint for promoted clubs. After a more-than-respectable eighth place in their first-ever top flight season in 2010/11, two top-half finishes followed and though Rob Baxter’s side dropped to eighth last year, they have a real chance of a debut in the playoffs come May. Not to mention that they are in the semi-finals of the LV= Cup, and so have a chance of defending the title they won at Sandy Park last March, and the quarter-finals of the European Challenge Cup, where this fixture repeats on Easter Saturday.
Just in case you were wondering about 2015/16, England wing Jack Nowell will be joined in Devon by fellow Red Roser Geoff Parling, as well as Bath speedster Olly Woodburn.
Wor Geoff will also link up with three players who are expected to wear the white shirt in the not-too-distant future in hooker Luke Cowan-Dickie, flanker Dave Ewers and utility back Henry Slade. Slade is normally used at outside centre by the Chiefs, but his distribution and kicking have led to calls for him to be included in the England squad as a fly-half.
Chief Baxter can also call on England-capped flanker Tom Johnson and Moray Low, the Scotland prop, as well as talismanic captain Dean Mumm, who won 33 caps for Australia before switching hemispheres in 2012. Lets also not forget Thomas Waldrom, revitalised after his move from Leicester in the summer. Don’t bet against the Tank adding to his five England caps before 2015 is out.
Despite their lofty position, Exeter are currently on a four-game losing run in the Premiership, being on the wrong end of all four Christmas league results. Those defeats were 18-11 at Sale, 31-14 at Bath, 25-26 at home to Gloucester and 28-26 at London Irish. However, back in November they beat Saracens at home and pulled off probably the result of the season so far, 18-24 at champions Northampton. The Chiefs were 6-21 at half-time at Franklin’s Gardens following tries from Cowan-Dickie and Waldrom (two), and survived a Saints onslaught in the second forty to pull off a famous victory that marked Exeter out as real contenders.
In terms of home form, apart from Gloucester at New Year, the only other away team to win at Sandy Park in 2014/15 was Leicester in September, but a slender 20-24 scoreline.
As I said, the Falcons have never won at Sandy Park, but then before this season our Premiership record against the Chiefs read P6 L6. That record, and our unwanted run of twenty successive league defeats, ended on 5th October. Tom Catterick’s try had levelled the scores at 24-24 and the 4,000 home fans cranked up the noise, roaring Noah Cato over for the winning score. The 29-24 victory was an incredibly tense day, but what a release of elation at the final whistle!
In our last meeting in the South West in December 2013, Exeter won quite comfortably 16-3. The first half was a battle of the kickers, Gareth Steenson knocking over three penalties to one from Phil Godman, before Haydn Thomas’s sniping try sealed the home team’s victory.
Falcons in EX2:
18/09/2010 Premiership L17-22
11/12/2010 Challenge Cup L10-36
10/09/2011 Premiership L15-32
21/12/2013 Premiership L3-16
Dean Richards has made a bit of a left-field selection for tomorrow by giving Juan Pablo Orlandi a first start in a Falcons shirt. Scott MacLeod makes a rare league appearance, and Gonzalo Tiesi is fit to take a place on the bench.
Falcons team: 15 Simon Hammersley, 14 Sinoti Sinoti, 13 Adam Powell, 12 Juan Pablo Socino, 11 Alesana Tuilagi, 10 Tom Catterick, 9 Mike Blair, 1 Rob Vickers, 2 Scott Lawson, 3 Juan Pablo Orlandi, 4 Calum Green, 5 Scott MacLeod, 6 Mark Wilson, 7 Will Welch (c) 8 Ally Hogg
Replacements: 16 Rob Hawkins, 17 Mark Irving, 18 Scott Wilson, 19 Dom Barrow, 20 Richard Mayhew, 21 Ruki Tipuna, 22 Gonzalo Tiesi, 23 Alex Tait.
After what I said previously, Exeter are starting with Henry Slade in the ten shirt tomorrow, partnered with former Falcon Will Chudley:
Chiefs team: 15 Phil Dollman, 14 Ian Whitten, 13 Jack Nowell, 12 Sam Hill, 11 Matt Jess, 10 Henry Slade, 9 Will Chudley, 1 Ben Moon, 2 Luke Cowan-Dickie, 3 Tomas Francis, 4 Dean Mumm (c), 5 Damian Welch, 6 Dave Ewers, 7 Ben White, 8 Thomas Waldrom.
Replacements: 16 Jack Yeandle, 17 Carl Rimmer, 18 Alex Brown, 19 Mitch Lees, 20 Tom Johnson, 21 Haydn Thomas, 22 Gareth Steenson,23 Byron McGuigan.
Although things have been much-improved this season, with respect to Gloucester, London Welsh and of course Exeter themselves, we haven’t really made a big statement with any of our league victories in 2014/15. A win at Sandy Park tomorrow would be a big marker of the Falcons being truly on the up. Come on!
(Follow The South Stand Choir on Twitter: @SouthStandChoir)