RICHARD CAPSTICK could make his Premiership debut for Exeter on Friday night against Gloucester after being named on the bench for the clash Kingsholm (7:45pm).
Capstick and fellow academy youngster Billy Keast are named among the Chiefs’ replacements after impressing against Bristol in the Premiership Rugby Cup last time out.
Exeter are without their six England players – Ben Moon, Luke Cowan-Dickie, Harry Williams, Ollie Devoto, Jack Nowell and Henry Slade – but they do have Wales tight-head Tomas Francis available to take on Gloucester.
Francis will pack down in a front-row alongside Alec Hepburn and skipper Jack Yeandle.
In the back division, the absence of Devoto and Slade mean Sam Hill and Ian Whitten team up in the midfield, whilst Baxter sticks with an unchanged back three of Phil Dollman, Santi Cordero and Tom O’Flaherty, as well as an untouched half back pairing of Nic White and Joe Simmonds.
Friday will be the fourth time Exeter have met Gloucester this season, with the Devonians winning two out of three of the previous games.
Director of rugby Rob Baxter expects a tough test at Kingsholm.
“In all the time we’ve been in the Premiership, neither ourselves or Gloucester have been able to double up wins,” said Baxter. “We’ve both won games at home and we’ve both won games away, and it was a similar story in the Champions Cup earlier this season, so the challenge this week is to see if we can break that hoodoo.”
He added: “I think it’s a really good challenge for us. We’ve got international players away and three of our next four games are away from home against teams who all have something to fight for.
“Gloucester on Friday, we know, are targeting a top four spot, then we’ve got the likes of Newcastle and Worcester, both of whom will be fighting tooth and nail to stave off relegation, plus a testing trip to Sale as well. When you look at it like that, we’ve got four dogfights on our hands.
Gloucester Rugby are able to welcome back a number of players from injury for the visit of Exeter.
The Cherry and Whites have had to cope with a lengthy injury list over the past couple of months, but several players are named in the starting line-up having missed out recently including Ruan Ackermann, Tom Marshall and Jason Woodward.
Ackermann has been out since early November, Marshall since mid-October and Woodward since the win at Newcastle on December 23rd. Their returns are all a boost for Gloucester Rugby who are seeking to consolidate their challenge for a top four finish.
Also named in the matchday squad for the first time since early December is hooker James Hanson.
It’s the first Gallagher Premiership action since early January, and Head Coach Johan Ackermann acknowledged this week that the return to domestic action is timely.
“Personally, I think that the break came at the right time. Hopefully it will be a bit of an advantage in the sense that we’ve got a few players back from injury.
“It’s given us some new energy, the guys, apart from the ones who played at Bath, had a few days off before spending the last two weeks preparing for this game.”
Gloucester have a key phases of their season coming up with the two top teams in the table, Exeter Chiefs and Saracens, coming to Kingsholm in successive weeks. Ackermann admits home advantage could be significant.
“We’re thankful that both games are at home, we want to make Kingsholm a tough place to come to and know that the crowd will be behind us and want to thank them for that.
“The reality is that the next two weeks are massive against the two leading sides in the competition, teams that have been setting the tone In Premiership and in Europe for some time now.
“It will be a massive challenge, they have excellent coaches and players. If you ever want to be tested at the highest level, these two games will do that. The table is so tight that we have to fight for very point over the next ten games. That’s why this competition is so tough.”
Gloucester Rugby: 15. Jason Woodward; 14. Tom Marshall, 13. Billy Twelvetrees, 12. Mark Atkinson, 11. Ollie Thorley; 10. Danny Cipriani, 9. Willi Heinz (capt); 1. Josh Hohneck, 2. Franco Marais, 3. Fraser Balmain; 4. Tom Savage, 5. Franco Mostert; 6. Freddie Clarke, 7. Ruan Ackermann, 8. Ben Morgan. Replacements: 16. James Hanson, 17. Paddy McAllister, 18. Ciaran Knight, 19. Gerbrandt Grobler, 20. Lewis Ludlow, 21. Callum Braley, 22. Owen Williams, 23. Matt Banahan
Exeter Chiefs: 15 Phil Dollman, 14 Santiago Cordero,13 Ian Whitten, 12 Sam Hill, 11 Tom O’Flaherty, 10 Joe Simmonds, 9 Nic White, 1 Alec Hepburn, 2 Jack Yeandle (capt), 3 Tomas Francis, 4 Dave Dennis, 5 Jonny Hill, 6 Dave Ewers, 7 Sean Lonsdale, 8 Matt Kvesic. Replacements: 16 Elvis Taione, 17 Billy Keast, 18 Greg Holmes, 19 Mitch Lees, 20 Richard Capstick, 21 Jack Maunder, 22 Gareth Steenson, 23 Tom Hendrickson.