Can a sporting contest really be described as 'mouthwatering'?
I've probably used it a few times myself over the years but it's high on my list of least favourite clichés, that's for sure. That said, this is definitely a match where you would heard it be used. And BT really have done well in securing a mouthwatering double, with Saracens v Clérmont playing beforehand - still though they have definitely saved the best of this Round 3 of the Champions Cup for last.
Just under five years have passed since we last visited Sandy Park and it's fair to say the two clubs have gone in different directions since. Exeter were coming to the end of their first top European campaign and did themselves proud, improving ever since to a point where they were deservedly crowned English champions last season.
Leinster, meanwhile, have been on a downward curve, albeit from a very high point. Despite getting the five match points we needed on the night it wasn't enough to end our quest for three Heineken Cups in a row - we had to 'make do' with a treble instead though the flow of trophies has subsided greatly since then. Well after a perfect start to this very difficult pool, we face our sternest test yet though we do so with a very impressive starting XV it has to be said.
Will we regret opting to leave James Lowe behind? I'm in two minds, to be honest. It does seem strange after he did so well on his debut and if I were Rob Baxter I'd show my team footage of the win over Treviso and say something like - 'You see this guy? Leinster are so cocky they felt they didn't need him - let's make em regret it!'. But bringing him meant we'd have to leave out one from Scott Fardy [not an option] and Jamison Gibson-Park [whom I have already highlighted as being handy to have on the bench in a tight contest, which this could very well be].
Instead we have gone for a back three packed with experience with a potential RWC2019 bolter Jordan Larmour waiting in the wings to make his European debut. But what is most eye-catching about this Leinster lineup lies in the remainder of the backline.
We may well have enviable depth in every position but few would argue that Luke McGrath, Johnny Sexton, Robbie Henshaw and Garry Ringrose is easily the best 9/10/12/13 combo we can put on the park, and here is where the bulk of our work needs to be done. Exeter showed against Bath last weekend how much they love to starve you of possession, meaning we'll need to make the most of every single opportunity.
In the pack, we will have to play very smart at the breakdown. The Chiefs have incredible patience - 30+ phases in one set, mostly 'pick and go's, are nothing to them - so we will have to make sure we get on the right side of Romain Poite [who also reffed in 2013] if we are to knock them off their game.
Also it's important that we nail our setpieces...the scrum was one area where Bath had a bit of an edge and we have done well in this area; plus our lineout yips seem to have receded somewhat and we certainly can't afford to regress.
On Exeter's side, speaking leaving potential match winners out of the lineup - they start without Sam Simmonds and Jack Nowell though both are on the bench, while in their place are James Short and Thomas Waldrom. both of whom impressed last time out. And with White, Steenson, Whitten and Slade they can match up very well against the four I listed earlier.
Bookies have a home win by 2 points. I reckon we'll nick it by 1-3 but only if we can get on the board early. Either way it promises to be every bit as mouthwat-....er, I mean, um, exciting as the billing suggests. Can't wait. JLP
PS - Best of luck to all Irish provinces playing over the weekend.
Exeter : 15 Phil Dollman 14 James Short 13 Henry Slade 12 Ian Whitten 11 Olly Woodburn 10 Gareth Steenson (capt) 9 Nic White
1 Alec Hepburn 2 Luke Cowan-Dickie 3 Harry Williams 4 Mitch Lees 5 Jonny Hill 6 Don Armand 7 Matt Kvesic 8 Thomas Waldrom
16 Jack Yeandle 17 Ben Moon 18 Tomas Francis 19 Sam Skinner 20 Sam Simmonds 21 Will Chudley 22 Sam Hill 23 Jack Nowell.
Rugby Champions Cup 2017/18 - Round 3
Sunday, December 10, 2017
Referee: Romain Poite (Fra)
AR1: Thomas Charabas (Fra)
AR2: Vincent Blasco Baqué (Fra)
TMO: Eric Gonthier (Fra).
BT Sport 2
Leinster ‘A’ v Bristol : 15. Ciarán Frawley 14. Jack Kelly 13. Gavin Mullin 12. Conor O'Brien 11. Tommy O'Brien 10. Cathal Marsh 9. Charlie Rock
1. Peter Dooley 2. Bryan Byrne CAPTAIN 3. Vakh Abdaladze 4. Josh Murphy 5. Ian Nagle 6. Peadar Timmins 7. Will Connors 8. Max Deegan
Replacements 16. Ronan Kelleher 17. Ed Byrne 18. Cormac Daly 19. Caelan Doris 20. Hugh O'Sullivan 21. Ian Fitzpatrick 22. Hugo Keenan
[Note : The Bristol side does not include Ian Madigan]
British & Irish Cup 2017/18 Round 3
Friday, December 8, 2017