Aviva Premiership: Exeter Chiefs host playoff contenders Harlequins at Sandy Park
Last Updated: 02/05/14 3:53pm
Harlequins will travel to Sandy Park on Sunday to face Exeter Chiefs knowing whether or not they still have a shot at an Aviva Premiership play-off berth.
As it stands Harlequins need at least six points from their last two games to give themselves any chance of a semi-final spot, but results elsewhere could equally have seen them eliminated from the race by the time their game arrives on Sunday.
Bath face second-placed Northampton Saints on Friday in a bid to secure a top-four finish, while Leicester travel to face Sale Sharks on Saturday looking to do the same.
Harlequins do however go into the clash full of confidence having won their last three Aviva Premiership matches, while Exeter have won just one of their last four - a 38-33 win at Worcester Warriors in round 19.
Conor O’Shea, the Quins director of rugby, has named three changes to the side that played lost out to Northampton in last week’s Amlin Challenge Cup semi-final.
Tom Williams returns to take over from the injured Charlie Walker on the right wing, while fly-half Nick Evans reclaims his starting place after recovering from injury, meaning Ben Botica drops to the bench.
Between an unchanged front and back-row, Nick Kennedy locks down alongside Charlie Matthews in place of George Robson who picked up a knock last week.
Among the replacements, Ugo Monye will look to make his first appearance since March after recovering from an injury sustained against Saracens.
England full-back Mike Brown suffered a heavy fall in the European showdown on Friday night but the Harlequins flyer, recently shortlisted for the Premiership Player of the Year accolade, retains his place in the starting XV.
“He’s fine, he just landed on a little patch of concrete when he was tipped up in the air,” said O’ Shea.
“He should be fit for our match this weekend. He had a dead leg that got worse and bled a little bit, but he will be ready to train by the middle of the week.”
A fortnight has passed since the Devon club suffered a record 55-12 top flight defeat to Sale Sharks and the Exeter head coach Rob Baxter has had plenty of time to ponder his options ahead of the penultimate league game of the season.
“It’s about focusing back on ourselves, not getting distracted and realising that the week’s preparation and everything we do is towards a big performance on Sunday,” Baxter told the club’s official website.
“If you turn up and train well during the week it does not mean Sunday will be okay, there’s a bit more to it than that.
“Sometimes you can have a poor training week and go into a really big performance because everybody’s focus has been on the game coming up. As long as this week’s training has some intensity about it, I’m not worried if it’s not the most accurate group of sessions. I want us to show we’re preparing for a big physical performance.”
Among those returning to the starting line-up are captain Dean Mumm, Carl Rimmer, Luke Cowan-Dickie and Hoani Tui, the latter of whom is set for pastures new next season in France with newly-promoted Lyon.
The Maori prop along with Jason Shoemark, Craig Mitchell, James Phillips and Romana Graham, are all set to make their final appearance at Sandy Park.
Harlequins: 15 Brown, 14 Williams, 13 Molenaar, 12 Turner-Hall, 11 Smith, 10 Evans, 9 Care; 1 Marler, 2 Ward, 3 Sinckler, 4 Matthews, 5 Kennedy, 6 Wallace, 7 Robshaw (capt), 8 Easter.
Replacements: 16 Buchanan, 17 Lambert, 18 Doran Jones, 19 Guest, 20 Fa'asavalu, 21 Botica, 23 Monye.
Exeter: 15 Dollman, 14 Vainikolo, 13 Whitten, 12 Hill, 11 Jess, 10 Steenson, 9 Lewis; 1 Rimmer, 2 Cowan-Dickie, 3 Tui, 4 Mumm (capt), 5 Welch, 6 Ewers, 7 White, 8 Horstmann.
Replacements: 16 Yeandle, 17 Mitchell, 18 Brown, 19 Phillips, 20 Scaysbrook, 21 Thomas, 22 Slade, 23 James.