Exeter set for Premiership bow
September 3, 2010
Exeter's Andrew Higgins will return to the Premiership stage on Saturday for the first time since his nine-month ban © Getty Images
The Premiership will break new ground on Saturday at Sandy Park where newcomers Exeter will begin their first season in English rugby's top flight against Gloucester.
The Chiefs only secured their place in this season's Premiership back in May at the end of an epic season in the Championship and as a result have been playing catch-up ever since in terms of player recruitment and preparation. Add in the significant financial handicap they face and it appears it will be all about survival for the forward-thinking club.
Mid-table mediocrity was all that Gloucester could manage last season and a lack of big-name signings have failed to inspire and they will get little sympathy from the Chiefs for their plight. But the Cherry and White finished strongly last season and limited squad upheaval should have aided coach Bryan Redpath somewhat.
Exeter - Player to Watch: Luke Arscott - the fullback re-joined the Chiefs in the off-season from Bristol and will be hoping to be amongst the tries.
Exeter - Team News: Haydn Thomas comes in at scrum-half with Junior Poluleuligaga injured and Phil Dollman's inclusion at centre means Mark Foster is switched to the wing at the expense of Matt Jess. There is, however, a first-ever league start for summer signing James Phillips at No.8.
Gloucester - Player to Watch: Fly-half Nicky Robinson had his critics last season but issued a reminder against the Ospreys in pre-season that he can run the show. Can he transfer that form onto the Premiership stage?
Gloucester - Team News: The visitors have named an experienced line-up including veteran centre Mike Tindall and wingers James Simpson-Daniel and Lesley Vainikolo. But they will be missing prop Paul Doran-Jones and rising star Freddie Burns through injury.
Key Battle: A vociferous 10,744 capacity Sandy Park crowd versus Gloucester. The Exeter faithful will no doubt raise the roof as the Chiefs make their Premiership bow but will that unknown element undermine Gloucester's bid for a winning start to the campaign?
Trivia: Exeter are the 19th different club to play Premiership rugby following their promotion from the Championship last season, and will be contesting their first ever game in England's top division. Their home ground, Sandy Park, will be the 29th different venue to stage a Premiership match.
Stats: The two clubs have met just twice before in competitive rugby, both at Kingsholm, with Gloucester victorious on both occasions: 34-3 in the 4th round of the John Player Cup in February 1982, and 35-6 in the 6th round of the Powergen Cup in December 2002.
Odds: Think the Chiefs will get off to a flyer in the top flight? The home side are 11/5 with Bet365 to open with a win and a welcoming 7/1 to notch the game's first try.
"We're never going to know if we're ready for the Premiership until we play in it. I want us to get stuck into it and that's the only way we're going to know where we stand." - Exeter coach Rob Baxter can't wait for the new season.
"Club rugby is why I started to play rugby and it is the bit I enjoy the most. It is probably the most enjoyable aspect about rugby and you get the reward at the end of that, so hopefully we can try and get us some silverware for the first time in a while." - Gloucester captain Mike Tindall
Fantasy: This weekend also marks the start of the ESPN Premiership Rugby Fantasy Game so we can't give you an insight on key performers just yet - but we will. Have you entered your team yet?
Prediction: The party-like atmosphere at Sandy Park will ensure a special atmosphere and while it might be good for a few points on the scoreboard the Premiership nous of Gloucester will give the Cherry and Whites the edge in what should be a tight encounter.
Huw Richards profiles French forward Walter Spanghero, a man who even rugby's hard men thought was a tough nut
"To be part of the Commonwealth Games, I'd wear anything. I'd wear a clown suit." Tom Hamilton talks to Scotland's Sean Lamont
Scrum Sevens looks back at how rugby has fared in both the early Olympics and the past four Commonwealth Games
"Cheika's been phenomenal. He gives you an incredible level of mental strength." Tom Hamilton talks to Waratahs star Jacques Potgieter