AT least two members of the new-look Exeter squad will make their Gallagher Premiership debuts in Chiefs' colours tomorrow against Saracens, writes Jack Lewis.
Flanker Ethan Roots and prop Ehren Painter will mark their first foray into the league for Chiefs as the team takes on the reigning champions in front of the Sandy Park crowd, kicking off at 1.30pm.
However, more Chiefs league debuts may await with Niall Armstrong, Ben Hammersley, Will Haydon-Wood and Ross Vintcent named on the bench.
With the Chiefs poised to enter the regular season with a significantly altered squad, tomorrow’s match marks a milestone in the new direction the club is taking.
Director of rugby Rob Baxter said: “It’s the start of a new story. Every season is the start of a new process, but this one is a little different because we have had the biggest number of changes in our squad that we have had for a long, long time.
“We have two guys starting for us who will be playing their first game for Exeter in the Premiership, with four more on the bench. On top of that, we have got another group who have only played one, two or three Premiership games at the end of last season.
“I think that’s really exciting, and that’s how we want to play. We want to give our younger players lots of opportunities in big games. We have done that successfully in the past and we are very comfortable doing that again.”
And the games don’t get much bigger than playing the reigning champions in front of a home crowd, albeit Saracens will be missing many of their more experienced players who are on World Cup duty in France.
Baxter, though, wants to continue playing the style of rugby that has seen them through to the semi-finals of the Premiership Rugby Cup.
“It’s great that we are starting the league at Sandy Park so we can create a good vibe at home with our supporters, so we can get them feeling that they are part of this team’s destiny,” Baxter continued.
“We want to play in a way that is easy to support. We started that way in the Premiership Rugby Cup and want to continue that style in the league.”
Saracens director of rugby Mark McCall has made six changes to the matchday 23 that accelerated past Hartpury last weekend, to end the block of Premiership Rugby Cup fixtures with an encouraging 68-10 win.
Tom West returns to start at loose-head prop and is joined in the front row by Samson Adejimi and Marco Riccioni, the Italian coming straight back in on his return from the World Cup.
Callum Hunter-Hill and Nick Isiekwe continue their second-row partnership, with the back-row bolstered by the return of Theo McFarland, fresh from a brilliant World Cup campaign with Samoa.
Alex Goode, embarking on his 18th Premiership season, continues his half-back partnership with Aled Davies, while Olly Hartley will again partner skipper Alex Lozowski in the centres.
Alex Lewington is back on the left wing after missing the Hartpury fixture, with an in-form Rotimi Segun and Tom Parton completing the back three.
On the bench, Andy Christie makes a welcome return to the matchday squad for the first time since April, and Charlie Bracken will provide cover at scrum-half, in what are the only other two changes to the replacements.
Exeter Chiefs: Josh Hodge, Immanuel Feyi-Waboso, Henry Slade, Tom Hendrickson, Tom Wyatt, Harvey Skinner, Tom Cairns, Scott Sio, Jack Yeandle (capt), Ehren Painter, Rus Tuima, Lewis Pearson, Ethan Roots, Jacques Vermeulen, Greg Fisilau. Replacements: Max Norey, Billy Keast, Josh Iosefa-Scott, Aidon Davis, Ross Vintcent, Niall Armstrong, Will Haydon-Wood, Ben Hammersley.
Saracens: Tom Parton, Rotimi Segun, Alex Lozowski (capt), Olly Hartley, Alex Lewington, Alex Goode, Aled Davies, Tom West, Samson Adejimi, Marco Riccioni, Callum Hunter-Hill, Nick Isiekwe, Theo McFarland, Toby Knight, Tom Willis. Replacements: James Hadfield, Ralph Adams-Hale, Alec Clarey, Ollie Stonham, Andy Christie, Charlie Bracken, Manu Vunipola, Sean Maitland.