A season after winning their first Premiership title, Exeter Chiefs returned to Twickenham last May. Only this time, they were losing finalists as Saracens regained their throne. It’ll be a curious season for the Exeter Chiefs, as they attempt to fight back domestically while competing on a European stage too.
Last Season: As well as losing the Premiership final, Exeter would’ve been disappointed to miss out on the European knockout stages for a second consecutive season.
Strengths: Exeter are arguably the most balanced team in the Premiership – their attack is exciting but still effective, while defensively they are incredibly difficult to break down. With talents like Henry Slade, Jack Nowell and now Alex Cuthbert in the backline, watch out for flowing attacking moves.
Weaknesses: Though the gameplan that Rob Baxter and Ali Hepher have assembled is potent and useful, Exeter look lost when it doesn’t quite work. As we saw in the Champions Cup against Leinster last season, when Exeter’s opponents dominate possession and contact, they struggled to establish a grip on the game. It’d be a surprise if this didn’t change over the coming season.
Recruitment Rating: Exeter have managed to keep the departures to a minimum, unlike the majority of their Premiership counterparts. That said, their only summer acquisitions are two wingers – Alex Cuthbert and Santiago Cordero – which could leave them short on quality in the pack if Eddie Jones comes calling for Jonny Hill, Don Armand (especially with Thomas Waldrom’s departure) or Harry Williams. 7/10.
Key Man: Despite Eddie Jones’ reluctance to select him for the national team, Don Armand remains pivotal to the way Exeter play. His aptitude in the air makes him a useful option in the lineout, and his carrying offers Chiefs the gainline advantage they sometimes lack. Nic White’s busy nature is also essential for Exeter’s game in springing the backline into action.
Young gun to watch: With the loss of Will Chudley to Bath, it’ll be interesting to see whether Jack Maunder can re-establish himself as 2nd in the pecking order after often losing out to Stu Townsend and Chudley last season. The 21-year-old suffered a number of minor injuries last campaign, thus managing only 22 league minutes all season.
Prediction: Despite their strong league performances over the last few years, Exeter face a difficult job to retain their place in the final which they’ve assumed for three consecutive seasons. With a lack of transfer business, Chiefs will be relying on academy products to add depth to their squad, and given the resurgence of Wasps, Exeter will finish 3rd (losing semi-finalists).
Ins: Alex Cuthbert (Cardiff Blues), Santiago Cordero (Jaguares).
Outs: Shaun Malton (Bristol Bears), Thomas Waldrom (Wellington Lions), Will Chudley (Bath), Ed Holmes (Bristol Bears), Kai Horstmann, Julian Salvi, Carl Rimmer (all retired).