Exeter Chiefs V Saints SF 25th May 19


It has been a great nine months of top-class action, with 10 sell-out crowds showing that a visit to watch Exeter Chiefs is the hottest ticket in the far South West. I thought last season was good, when the Chiefs finished top of the table at the end of the regular league campaign for the first time on 85 points – eight clear of second-place Saracens – with 17 victories. But this season has beenmarginally even better, though what is incredible is the fact Exeter have produced almost a complete replica of that this time around. They have managed 86 points – once again eight points clear of second-spot Saracens – and again with 17 victories. That left them one point off the all-time record for Premiership points in a 22-game season – 87 set by Saracens in 2013-14 – when the Londoners finished nine points clear of today’s visitors Northampton Saints, who went on to win the Twickenham final that year. The incredibly competitive nature of the Premiership is borne out by the fact that the two beaten play-off finalists last season, Wasps and Newcastle Falcons, have dropped like a stone in 2018-19. Wasps were third and Newcastle fourth last term, but this time around, Wasps have finished eighth and even missed out on a place in next season’s Heineken Champions Cup, while the Falcons have incredibly been relegated to the Championship. Wasps’ points tally has gone down from 71 to 51, but Newcastle amazingly picked up less than half the number of points they did last season, crashing from 63 to 31, with 14 victories compared to only six this season. Conversely, Northampton and Gloucester have very much headed in the other direction and both thoroughly deserve their places in today’s Premiership semi-finals. The Saints have risen from 43 to 56 points under Chris Boyd’s direction, and Gloucester from 56 to 68 through the hard work of Johan Ackermann. I am personally very sad to see Newcastle drop out of the top flight.

I really thought they would kick on this term after such a great 2017-18, when for once they weren’t engaged in a relegation battle and reached the semi- finals of the Premiership, the Anglo-Welsh Cup and the European Challenge Cup. They still appeared to have a strong squad on paper, but the loss of some experienced personnel, such as Ally Hogg and Nili Latu, seemed to have more of an effect on them than perhaps many anticipated. Despite the long journey to Tyneside, the club have always been very welcoming on arrival, and hopefully their absence from the Premiership will be very shortlived, and this time next year I will be writing about their return to the top flight. It has been great to see Santiago Cordero and Matt Kvesic pick up the various Exeter Player of the Year awards after such great campaigns, with Cordero just pipping Kvesic to my vote. Kvesic is surely deserving of an England call-up very soon, while Cordero was a very surprising absentee from the Premiership Player of the Season shortlist. If last week’s exciting game between Exeter and Northampton is anything to go by, today should be a fitting climax to the Sandy Park season, with the Twickenham final awaiting the winner next Saturday. Here’s hoping Exeter still have one more match to play after this afternoon, and they can go on and lift a second Premiership title in three years. Have a great summer break and see you again in September. NIGEL WALROND BBC RADIO DEVON



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