How are they getting on?
Almost no introduction needed for Exeter here. They’ve won four on the bounce including beating Saracens at Saracens last Sunday. They’re looking like the team to beat for the rest of the regular season and having won their toughest fixture of the year they will be expecting a victory every week.
Bath have also emerged as one of the more consistent sides in the league over the last few months. They’re coming off a comfortable victory over Harlequins and have been rewarded with third place in the Premiership as a result. They will want to build on their recent form by putting in a strong performance at the champions.
What to watch for:
- Pressure on Jonathan Joseph – Joseph probably deserves more credit than he gets and it does seem like fans and pundits are often talking about the man behind him. That being said his style of play can be a bit feast-or-famine, mixing sublime attacking performances with quiet games. There are signs that Eddie Jones is warming to the idea of having the more versatile Henry Slade in his matchday squad, so Joseph will want to perform well against Slade’s Chiefs. It is a shame that they will not be going head-to-head, instead Joseph will be against the physical Warrenball pairing of Sam Hill and Ian Whitten.
- Big Zach slotting in at 7 – Zach Mercer has played most of the rugby in his young career at number 8, but has been wearing the openside shirt in recent weeks. He made an eye opening break to set up a try against Harlequins and it could be that he is even more effective when not burdened with being the primary ball carrier. It’s unlikely to be his long term position in the future, but a move to the flanks could see him combine with Billy Vunipola in future England teams, a player who relishes the heavy-traffic work.
- Can the Bath front row hold up? Bath will pack up with Anthony Perenise and the highly rated Beno Obano on either side of the scrum. Both are very capable but I suspect they might have a difficult day at the office against the Chiefs’ trio of Alec Hepburn, Harry Williams and Luke Cowan-Dickie. Williams has been backing up Dan Cole for England and will want to flex his muscles against Obano. Hepburn, despite being smaller than average, is also a very capable set-piece loosehead as well as being dynamic around the park. Bath have a very accomplished hooker of their own however in Tom Dunn, who is an abrasive, all-action character and will not want to accept anything less than parity.
Bath certainly have the backline talent to cause Exeter problems, but ultimately I think they’ll be too strong at home. I think a solid win by more than a score is on the cards for the Chiefs.