Gallagher Premiership final preview: Exeter Chiefs and Wasps battle it out to be crowned champions of English rugby

You can watch Exeter v Wasps in the final of the Gallagher Premiership live on BT Sport as the Chiefs bid to complete a league and European cup double.

By Callum Davis Published: 22 October 2020 - 12.32am

Over 12 long months after it kicked off, the marathon 2019/20 Gallagher Premiership season is set to reach its thrilling conclusion as Exeter Chiefs and Wasps battle it out for the right to be crowned champions of English rugby. 

After a campaign like no other, Exeter are bidding to create club history by completing a famous league and European Cup double, just 10 years after sealing promotion to the top flight. 

In their way stand a Wasps side that have their sights set on a fourth Premiership crown and a first since 2008 in a repeat of the 2017 showpiece.

Here BT Sport looks ahead to what is sure to be an extraordinary final to bring the curtain down on an extraordinary season.

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Exeter Chiefs v Wasps

Saturday 24 October, 5.15pm (6pm KO)

Live Stream – BTSport.com & BT Sport app

TV - BT Sport 1 HD & BT Sport Ultimate

Wasps' story has been the stand-out tale of the restart.  

After four months of the regular season they were languishing in 10th place in the table. Fast forward to October and they're within touching distance of the title they have not won since 2008 when BT Sport's very own Lawrence Dallaglio was captain.

Wasps' extraordinary revival has been masterminded by head coach Lee Blackett. The turnaround in form under their new leader has been nothing short of revelatory.

The Coventry outfit have been the team to watch since the league's resumption, with young stars like Alfie Barbeary and Jacob Umaga helping to catapult them up the ladder.

Wasps have gone from mid-table also-rans to genuine Premiership title contenders since rugby returned to BT Sport screens and Blackett must take much of the credit. 

Having replaced Dai Young as head coach in February, the former Rotherham Titans boss has led the club on a meteoric rise since then with 12 wins out of 13 league matches.

A handful of positive Covid tests within the camp had put their participation in jeopardy, but Blackett and his side have now been cleared to take part in Saturday's season finale. 

Ahead of his maiden final, the 37-year-old has revealed he has spoken to Leinster and ex-England head coach Stuart Lancaster for advice on how to approach big games.

"I spoke to him on Monday over text, he said congratulations and wished us good luck for the week," Blackett said. 

"We exchanged a few messages. Whenever you have someone like Lanny [Lancaster], he is a great sounding board. I have fond memories of him as a coach but he is also a person who is always willing to have the conversations, which I had with him over the summer and during the lockdown period.

"I was asking him [this week] about big games and his mentality, seeing if I could pick up any gems along the way. We spoke about a couple of things that we will look to do during the week. It is always great when you have people like that and can try to use his experience as well."

If Wasps are to end their 12-year wait to be crowned Premiership champions then they will need their young stars to prove they're at home on English rugby's biggest stage.

All eyes will be on Jack Willis, as the 23-year-old looks to cap a breakout season with his first piece of club silverware. 

Having topped the regular season for turnovers won (44) Willis was pivotal in booking Wasps' place in the final for the first time in three years.

The all-action flanker produced a man-of-the-match display against Bristol Bears in the semi-finals, scoring a try and miraculously denying another to inspire a 47-24 victory at the Ricoh Arena. 

Ahead of the biggest game in his young career, Blackett believes the Twickenham showdown will be just the start of a long and illustrious career for the back-rower.

“The scary thing is that he is actually going to get better. He has been outstanding. You only have to look at the turnovers he gets in the game. But he has added to his game and is a better ball carrier now,” added the former centre.  

One player with a point to prove on Saturday afternoon is Dan Robson.

Like Willis, the scrum-half has been one of the key players in Wasps' post-lockdown boom and his eye-catching performances have seen him thrust into international reckoning. 

"He is in the form of his life," said Wasps veteran Jimmy Gopperth after the Premiership semi-final win over Bristol.

"He is running the show. In everything good, Dan’s got some part in it. His confidence is through the roof. He is playing brilliantly. I am so happy for him.

"In the England squad, he needs to be right up there and starting in my book, because he’s been brilliant."      

Robson has so far found international recognition hard to come by with Eddie Jones at the helm, but should he inspire Wasps to glory on Saturday he may get a well-earned shot.

If Wasps have had a season to remember, then their opponent's year will go down in English rugby folklore. 

Exeter bulldozed their way through the domestic campaign, rightly finishing atop the table as the league's best team.

Rob Baxter's men have been irrepresible at times, combining brutish power play in their pack with the poise and finesse of playmakers Henry Slade and Stuart Hogg.

They will come into the game full of confidence too, after being crowned European champions last weekend following a sensational Champions Cup victory over Racing 92.

Ten years after they beat Bristol to seal promotion to the top flight, the Devon club wrote another epic chapter in their fairytale story by beating the Parisians to win their maiden European Cup.

The victory marked the culmination of a remarkable decade for Exeter, who have gone from Championship minnows to the best club side in the northern hemisphere.

For Chiefs supremo Baxter, securing another piece of silverware on Saturday would be just deserts for all those who have been a part of the masterplan.

“It would be just reward, I feel, for this group of players, for what they have committed to over the last five years, if we can do the double,” he said.

“I am hoping that will be enough of a driver for us. I think we can play better than we did (against Racing), and we will need to, actually.

“I think Wasps are ready to go, and I think it is going to be a tough game for us, another game when I will be chewing my microphone and cursing and wondering what we are doing, but that’s what finals are like.

“When we had to, we saw it through. We’ve done it at the first attempt, and it is great for this group of players.”

Wasps may have an extra week's rest over their Twickenham opponents but Exeter's battle-weary soldiers should have no difficulty in mustering up one last effort to round off the season in style. 

For brothers Sam and Joe Simmonds, it's an opportunity to write a piece of history as the first siblings to both win the Premiership and Champions Cup in the same season. 

Both men have been at the heart of Exeter's campaign to date. 

Sam was confirmed as the European Player of the Year in the aftermath of Saturday's Champions Cup triumph, but he has been just as devastating in domestic competition. His tally of 10 tries for the campaign was only bettered by Gloucester winger, Ollie Thorley.

Speaking in the wake of the Ashton Gate final win, Sam batted away plaudits to heap praise on brother Joe.

“Joe epitomises that as a 23-year-old captain, leading us to this and having a great game like he did is just amazing. I can’t believe it," he said.

“I think we feel pride in the ten years and even before the ten years we got promoted, this was the journey.

“Winning the Premiership was massive but to win this and to have a chance at the double, I think everyone at the club will be ecstatic.”

Joe will once again lead the Chiefs into war just seven days after his nerveless kick in the dying minutes of the game all-but secured the win.

Both men will again be at the frontline as Exeter suit up for one final battle to put the icing on the cake of a historic season. 

Watch Exeter Chiefs v Wasps live on BT Sport 1 HD & BT Sport Ultimate from 5.15pm on Saturday 24 October.