Premiership Lowdown: Exeter Chiefs

Fact-File:

Last season: Champions (2nd)

Home ground: Sandy Park (162 miles)

Odds: 4/1

Baxter’s battlers:

Premiership champions Exeter will undoubtedly be one of the main challengers for the domestic crown next season as they look to continue their 17-match unbeaten run.

The Chiefs defeated Wasps after extra-time in one of the great Premiership finals to continue their meteoric rise through the top division since their 2010 promotion.

The Devon side have several high-quality players including captain Gareth Steenson at fly-half, two-time Premiership top try scorer Number 8 Thomas Waldron and British Lion winger Jack Nowell.

The Chiefs’ trademark driving lineouts are their biggest strength with Waldron in particular benefiting from the forward pack outmuscling almost anything that it faces but the speed of Nowell and fellow wide man Olly Woodburn is also capable of getting Chiefs over the try-line.

It will be no surprise if Rob Baxter’s men come out on top again in the coming season, although their indifferent start to the last campaign will give Wasps fans hope that they can be defeated.

Ins and Outs:

In:

Matt Kvesic (Gloucester), Tom O’Flaherty (Ospreys), Toby Salmon (Rotherham Titans), Sam Simmonds (promoted from Academy), Nic White (Montpellier), James Freeman (Jersey Reds)

Out:

Dave Lewis (Harlequins), Damian Welch (Cardiff Blues), Will Hooley (Bedford Blues), Hayden Thomas (retired), Geoff Parling (Melbourne Rebels), Tom Johnson (retired)

Last season v Wasps:

Premiership Round 1: Wasps 25-20 Exeter

Anglo-Welsh Cup: Exeter 52-5 Wasps

Premiership Round 14: Exeter 35-35 Wasps

Premiership Grand Final: Wasps 20-23 Exeter

Tough pre-season perfect for Wasps

Wasps’ tough-looking pre-season schedule will be the perfect test of how well the black-and-golds will respond to their agonising loss to Exeter Chiefs in May’s Premiership Final.

The Coventry side make an August visit to Ulster and also host former Pro12 champions Connacht at the Ricoh Arena as they prepare for the 2017-2018 season.

Stern opposition will be provided by the Irish heavyweights and is the perfect way for boss Dai Young to assess how his troops can bounce back following the disappointing loss at Twickenham.

The August 17 visit to Belfast has the added ingredient of Ulster, who finished fifth in Pro12 last season, and Premiership table-toppers Wasps being drawn in the same European Champions Cup group.

Young will also send a side to the annual Singha Rugby Sevens tournament on July 28 and 29, this year held at Northampton Saints’ Franklin’s Gardens, after winning last year’s event.

Wasps are looking to repeat Exeter’s efforts of last season after themselves losing out to Saracens in the 2015 Premiership Final.

Rob Baxter’s men had a mixed start before going on an impressive 17-match unbeaten run to claim the title and Young has made several additions in an attempt to emulate their success.

The former British and Irish Lion has recently added Gloucester prop Paul Doran-Jones and highly-rated Cambridge youngster David Langley to a forward pack which was considered a relative weakness in a strong season for Wasps.

Young has earlier bolstered his back-line options with the signing of Fijian centre Gabiriele Lovobalavu whilst rapid winger Marcus Watson will provide more competition on the wing after his move from Newcastle.

Launchbury proud of Wasps efforts

Wasps captain Joe Launchbury hailed his side’s performances this season despite the black-and-golds losing 20-23 to Exeter Chiefs in the Premiership final.

The skipper has been outstanding this term and backed his side to challenge for the title again next year.

“I could not ask for any more, it’s a great group of guys,” said Launchbury, “we’re immensely proud to have finished top of the Premiership.

“We were desperate to one further today but to push a great side like Exeter to 100 minutes will hurt but, looking back over the next few weeks, we’ll take a lot out of the season.

“We deserve to be here today and we’ll come back firing again next year but like I said the league is very competitive.”

England international Launchbury described the aim of reaching premiership finals as a key reason for staying at the club after 2012 when Wasps survived by just one point.

“I didn’t want to be part of a club fighting in the bottom half of the league,” the 26-year-old said, “I don’t think any of us did.

“From Dai, right down to all the players, we bought into what we were trying to do and achieve. We knew we had a good group of young players and it was a case of keeping us together and days like today would arrive.

“It’s been a pretty short turn-around to get here. It’s only been four years which is testament to everyone at the club.”

Launchbury praised his side’s defensive efforts in the face of Exeter’s powerful and effective forward-line.

“I felt for large parts our defence stood up to the challenge but when you’re defending for long periods it certainly puts a strain on you,” he said.

“When you defend against Exeter for long periods you know they’re going to put you under pressure because that’s their game plan.

“Going through phase they are comfortable, not necessarily going far up the pitch but they hold on to the ball and try and force a mistake out of you and win a penalty.

“We talked at half-time about holding on to the ball as Dai’s just mentioned. There was some poor decision making.

“It’s easy for us to sit here and say we’ll go and do better off the back of it but we feel we’ve done better this year.

“We took the hurt from losing two semi-finals last year which didn’t go our way and we’re a much better side because of that.”