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Exeter Chiefs vs Leinster Rugby
Heineken Champions Cup Quarter-finals
Sandy Park, Exeter
Saturday, 10th April 2021, 17:30

TV: Live on BT Sports

That was a let down!

Leinster Rugby versus RC Toulon was going to kick-off the long Easter weekend and I'm sure I wasn't the only Leinster fan to have made special arrangements to be ready to watch the game at the early 5:30pm kick-off. Instead we had to make do with London Irish versus Cardiff in the Challenge Cup (which did turn out to be a bit of a classic in fairness complete with a late Sean O'Brien cameo). The positive COVID-19 test which led to Toulon effectively conceding the game was unfortunate and it leaves a sour taste in everyone's mouth. It's a horrible way to lose a game but also not a great way to win either. But unfortunately these are the times we're living in and you just hope that the remaining seven fixtures are won and lost on the pitch.

You could argue that a week off will benefit Leinster as the top internationals were due to play for a fourth straight week after having no break after the Six Nations. But it could also go the other way too as Exeter definitely benefited from the extra game last week as they recovered from a slow start to eventually crush a spirited Lyon team. Leinster were far from great in their performance against Munster and they could possibly have used another game to get tuned up.

Exeter are of course the current champions having won the trophy for the first time last season after years of struggling in Europe to even get out of their pools. They completed a double when they won the English Premiership as well and they have undoubtedly been the beneficiaries of Saracens' downfall (temporary as that may be). That shouldn't undermine their success though and they will make an argument that they would have won a lot more trophies over the last few years had Saracens not blatantly cheated the salary cap.

They're certainly a lot more likeable club than that obnoxious shower from London. Leinster first encountered Exeter in the 2012-13 season. They'd only recently been promoted at that stage and some of their fans couldn't believe they were hosting the likes of Brian O'Driscoll at their ground. Any Leinster fans who fought through the snow to make the away trip were struck by the warm, old-fashioned welcome of the home fans.

By the time the teams met again in the 2017-2018 season on Leinster's way to their fourth trophy, Exeter had won their first Premiership trophy. The key match was in Exeter in a game that really came down to two massive sets of phases as Leinster took on Exeter at their own game. The first was Exeter going through a load of phases near Leinster's line before half-time and Leinster holding them out. The second came ten minutes from the end when Leinster went through a whopping 44 phases before Jack Conan touched down for the match-winning try. The consensus afterwards in the bars was that a very good club pack had been beaten by a very good international pack.

Since then Exeter have improved and they have more forwards capped by England like Lewis Cowan-Dickie, Jonny Hill and Harry Williams. Number eight Sam Simmonds got some caps back in 2018 but Eddie Jones hasn't fancied him since then or his out-half brother Joe at all. They've imported some impressive Scottish talent in Stuart Hogg and Jonny Gray and Henry Slade is a class act but there's still mainly a team who are more than the sum of their parts.

They have a lot of players like Olly Woodburn, Jack Maunder, Tom O'Flaherty, Ben Moon and Dave Ewers who are far from household names but who are really good players who fit their system perfectly. Exeter sometimes attract criticism for the amount of tries they score from multiple pick and drive phases. Leinster will be the last ones throwing stones however considering how many of their tries come from the exact same method. And Exeter can mix it up and score plenty of tries out wide too. One thing they're probably not known for is their place or tactical kicking but they wear that as something of a badge of honour as they often prefer to go for the try. When you're as good as converting in the danger zone as they are, you can't blame them.

Their coach Rob Baxter has made just two changes to the team from last week. Props Ben Moon and Tomas Francis (who's off to Ospreys at the end of the season) rotate in to start with Alec Hepburn and Harry Williams dropping to the bench. Leo Cullen has made just one change from the match-day squad from the one that was selected to take on Toulon last week. Scott Fardy comes in to start in the second row and Ryan Baird drops to the bench.

Leinster will be up against it, but they could just outdo them up front again to win a tight one.

Leinster Rugby (caps in brackets):

Team Lineups


Leinster Rugby
Teams Stuart Hogg 15 Hugo Keenan
Olly Woodburn 14 Jordan Larmour
Henry Slade 13 Rory O'Loughlin
Ollie Devoto 12 Robbie Henshaw
Tom O'Flaherty 11 James Lowe
Joe Simmonds (C) 10 Johnny Sexton (C)
Jack Maunder 9 Luke McGrath

Ben Moon 1 Cian Healy
Luke Cowan-Dickie 2 Ronan Kelleher
Tomas Francis 3 Tadhg Furlong
Jonny Gray 4 Devin Toner
Jonny Hill 5 Scott Fardy
Dave Ewers 6 Rhys Ruddock
Jacques Vermeulen 7 Josh van der Flier
Sam Simmonds 8 Jack Conan

Replacements Jack Yeandle 16 James Tracy
Alec Hepburn
17 Ed Byrne
Harry Williams
18 Andrew Porter
Sam Skinner 19 Ross Molony
Jannes Kirsten20 Ryan Baird
Stu Townsend 21 Hugh O'Sullivan
Harvey Skinner 22 Ross Byrne
Ian Whitten 23 Dave Kearney

Not Considered
due to Injury

Conor O'Brien,
Dan Leavy,
Adam Byrne,
Max Deegan,
Tommy O'Brien,
Caelan Doris,
David Hawkshaw,
Jimmy O'Brien,
James Ryan,
Garry Ringrose,
Will Connors,
Scott Penny,
Jamison Gibson-Park,
Jack Dunne
Officials Referee: Mathieu Raynal (France),
Assistant referees: Christophe Ridley (England), Paul Dix (England),
TMO: Philippe Bonhoure (France)

by Jim O'Connor, © 2021-04-09