It's really interesting to hear people refer to Exeter Chiefs as if they were somehow similar to Leicester Football club and that it is a bit of a miracle that they are challenging for the Premiership title this weekend. Exeter have always been a strong cohesive team that plays for each other and since they were promoted have steadily and relentlessly improved and not by chucking out the players that got them there and buying in a whole raft of superstars. They have cleverly built by steadily adding more quality each year so now they have a great blend of local, home grown and quality signings. They only missed out on the play offs last year by a hair's breathe to Saracens who then went on to win the title plus Exeter destroyed many an illustrious name on the Champions Cup. So Exeter may go in as slight underdogs but to me only slight ones. They are perfectly capable of lifting that trophy.
Which brings us to the opposition Saracens. Here we have a team which funnily enough is not the complete opposite of Exeter. Far from it these days. They are certainly not stuffed with galaticos anymore and have more than their fair share of wonderful home grown talent. Again they have bought in some good outside players which augment the team but do not dominant it. Like Exeter they also have a team ethos and incredibly strong will to play for each other. For me then this is a fascinating game as their styles are not worlds apart, Both have great defence, strong set piece and accurate goal kicking. Exeter have tightened up a bit in the last few years too and like Saracens choose when and where they choose to fling the ball around.
Even as a front row forward I can see the immense talent young Jack Nowell and Henry Slade have. Don't they both just ooze class! They will be up against a very well drilled Saracens backline who will be determined to stop them running and who have threats of their own with another pretty classy player Alex Goode and the predatory Ashy looking for any hint of an opportunity to score a try.
My interest of course is going to be focussed on the forwards to see what job they do. Saracens have been immense here and have the incredible Maro Itoji (can we clone him!) who for once you can say is not an over hyped young player. Allied to the carrying and increasingly smart ball playing of the Vunipola boys, and my England player of the 6 Nations George Kruis running the line out, it all makes them look formidable. Exeter have weapons of their own however although sadly they will be without their top try scorer the unstoppable Tank Engine Thomas Waldrom. The Exeter backrow matches the Saracens one with the England tipped Dave Ewers and Don Armand sure to be key. The collisions are not going to be for the faint hearted!
As a passionate Cornish boy I would love to see Exeter get the win as my part of the world is a hot bed of rugby and Exeter's success has made the rest of the country realise that. However if Saracens do win the players will have deserved it having topped the table in a difficult season with so many of their star players on international duty and as England fans we can only hope the unstoppable Saracens forwards continue their form over in Australia a few weeks later!