Aviva Premiership Final 2017 preview
by James for #RugbyUnited
The Aviva Premiership Final 2017 should be a festival of attacking rugby. Wasps finished the regular season on top of the Premiership table for the first time. Second place Exeter Chiefs finished with the same amount of league points but two fewer wins. Both have scored around an average of four tries per game with each amassing well-over 600 points. The weather is forecast to be hot and sunny. Twickenham will be in full voice, dazzling ultra-high definition colour and full of expectation. Battle commences, glory awaits.
Twenty-three games of Premiership skirmishes since September have led Wasps and Exeter Chiefs to this final clash in the Twickenham cauldron. For the victor, the spoils. Eighty minutes from greatness; from epic achievement passed on through future generations; from that winning champagne-spraying photograph circulated on every social media outlet; from the victorious tours of the trophy around local rugby clubs throughout their region; from the basis of so many future nostalgic dinners celebrating that day of magnificence at Twickenham.
However, woe betide any of the players distracted by visions of triumph or the cacophony of 80,000 roaring fans that will greet them as they enter the hallowed arena. Last year the Chiefs players appeared overawed by their surroundings and fell behind Saracens, never quite managing to raise their game to the level that had taken them to the final. It was Bath’s stage fright the year before that. This year? You would think Exeter’s memory of last year will have been banked, learnt from and won’t be repeated. Will it be Wasps this year that suffer from the what, except James Haskell, is amazingly the first Premiership Final appearance for every one of their match day squad? There’s enough experience across their squad to make that seem unlikely.
It’s the clash that most neutral observers had hoped for. Both finalists have entertained with open attacking play all season, racking up a huge number of points.
Last year’s finalists Exeter will hope that they can take the final step in this chapter of their fairy tale and thrown off the yoke of defeat to Saracens a year ago. They are on a fifteen games unbeaten streak and won their last eight regular Premiership season games with attacking bonuses. Chiefs’ Director of Rugby and Exeter stalwart Rob Baxter has brought a sense of evidence collective purpose and fight from his squad, ably led by captain and ice-veined fly-half Gareth Steenson.
The city has emptied to travel to London for the rugby final today and a football promotion play-off final on Sunday. The Tomahawk Chop battle cry from their wonderfully passionate and friendly fans will be heard loud and proud. They despatched of defending champions Saracens in their semi-final at Sandy Park last weekend. That breathlessly-contested tie ended with after the courageous ‘best kick ever’ from England’s Henry Slade had set up a familiar catch and drive over the line for the winning score. International honours have been slow coming to this remarkable team, but increasingly selectors appear to be recognising there’s something special happening out west.
Wasps were victorious in their last appearance in the final in 2008. In what seem like those sepia-toned ancient times, Lawrence Dallaglio signed off his incredible 18-year career with yet another trophy win. He’s likely to be in the BT Sport commentary team for the final this year, willing-on his former team while artfully maintaining balance in his description of the action.
This year’s Wasps are a spectacular collection of international and emerging stars honed brilliantly into a superb team by Dai Young, recently named as the Aviva Premiership Director Of Rugby of the Season. They have the top individual try-scorer in Christian Wade, curiously overlooked by Eddie Jones for the England tour to Argentina. Captain Joe Launchbury has been exceptional all season for club and country and his omission from the Lions squad continues to baffle. They have reportedly the highest paid player in the Premiership in Kurtley Beale, though sadly an unfortunate hamstring injury last weekend will prevent him signing off on his brief Wasps career with an appearance in the Final. The Aviva Premiership Player of the Season Jimmy Gopperth is this season’s the top points scorer. From 1 to 23, they are a hugely impressive unit.
Who’ll win? The cliché of being too close to call has rarely been so apt. However, after two extraordinary semi-finals were won with final attacks last weekend everything is set for an exciting end to an outstanding 2016-17 Premiership season.
Willie Le Roux; Christian Wade; Elliot Daly; Jimmy Gopperth; Josh Bassett; Danny Cipriani; Dan Robson; Matt Mullan; Tommy Taylor; Phil Swainston; Joe Launchbury (c); Matt Symons; James Haskell; Thomas Young; Nathan Hughes. Replacements: Ashley Johnson; Simon McIntyre; Marty Moore; Kearnan Myall; Guy Thompson; Joe Simpson; Alapati Leiua; Frank Halai.
Director of Rugby: Dai Young
Phil Dollman; Jack Nowell; Ian Whitten; Ollie Devoto; Olly Woodburn; Gareth Steenson (c); Stuart Townsend; Ben Moon; Luke Cowan-Dickie; Harry Williams; Dave Dennis; Geoff Parling; Kai Horstmann; Don Armand; Thomas Waldrom. Replacements: Jack Yeandle; Carl Rimmer; Tomas Francis; Mitch Lees; Sam Simmonds; Will Chudley; Henry Slade; Michele Campagnaro.
Director of Rugby: Rob Baxter
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