Exeter Chiefs return to Gallagher Premiership Rugby action tomorrow (Saturday, August 15) – 161 days after the season was put on hold.
Covid-19 halted the side’s campaign with them sat on the summit of English rugby’s top flight and in the last eight of Europe’s Champions Cup.
Their last game was a 57-20 victory over Bath in early March.
Leicester Tigers, under the guidance of new boss and former England forwards coach Steve Borthwick, will be the visitors to Sandy Park with a 2pm kick-off.
Supporters have been asked to stay away from the ground.
Rob Baxter, the Chiefs’ director of rugby, said: “As it is right now, we feel we are well set.
“The players look good, they’ve trained incredibly hard and I like what I see.
“However, the proof of the pudding will in in our performance Personally, I don’t think we could have done much more from where we are now.”
The Chiefs have added eight new faces since their last fixture.
Of the newcomers, only Scottish international Jonny Gray is afforded a starting role.
He will debut in the second-row alongside Jonny Hill, while fellow newcomer and compatriot, Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, is named among the replacements.
Elsewhere, the line-up has a familiar feel with England duo Ollie Devoto and Henry Slade in the midfield, Scottish captain Stuart Hogg at full-back, while Joe Simmonds skippers the side from fly-half.
In the pack, it’s an all-England front-row of Alec Hepburn, Luke Cowan-Dickie and Harry Williams, whilst Sam Simmonds’ guile at number eight is perfectly complemented with the African might of Dave Ewers and Jannes Kirsten.
Baxter added: “It will be ten weekends before two teams are going to be playing in the Premiership final
“Obviously, we want of those teams to be us, but other clubs want it to be them as well.
“I see this as a fantastic opportunity to go out and achieve something that a team will never achieve again.
“I hope a team will never have to win a season like we’ve had this year – and I hope we don’t have another extended period away from rugby like we’ve had.
“Some guys here will have the experience of playing a Premiership game in front of zero crowd.
“Obviously, you don’t want that to happen again, but it’s still an experience you can say you’ve had, you’ve triumphed over, and something you can ultimately embrace.
“People are thinking it will be hugely different, but I don’t see it that way.
“Here we are in August, yet every other year we would play a pre-season game in August and run into the season in September.
“September is only two weeks away and that’s when we will play the majority of our games.
“It’s more when we get into October, playing in semi-finals and finals, when it could be different weather conditions than what you would get normally for a June final, where it will different.
“However, to experience that, you have to get to that position first.
“Just like every other year our intentions will be to use these first block of games to make sure we get there and start to tick a few of those boxes off.
“That’s when you can start to look beyond that and talk about semi-finals and finals.
“For now, we are not going to look that far ahead until we start knocking over a few points, because we’re not that far ahead of the rest of the field for us to start putting ourselves under pressure by not turning up and playing well.”
On the bench, there is the welcome sight of Tomas Francis back in action. The Welsh prop has not played since severely damaging his shoulder in Wales’ World Cup defeat to South Africa in October last year.
How Exeter Chiefs will line up against Leicester Tigers:
15 Stuart Hogg
14 Tom O’Flaherty
13 Henry Slade
12 Ollie Devoto
11 Olly Woodburn
10 Joe Simmonds (C)
9 Jack Maunder
1 Alec Hepburn
2 Luke Cowan-Dickie
3 Harry Williams
4 Jonny Gray
5 Jonny Hill
6 Dave Ewers
7 Jannes Kirsten
8 Sam Simmonds
16 Jack Yeandle
17 Ben Moon
18 Tomas Francis
19 Sam Skinner
20 Don Armand
21 Sam Hidalgo-Clyne
22 Gareth Steenson
23 Ian Whitten
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