Exeter Chiefs And Vodacom Bulls In Physical Heavyweight Clash


Something will have to give as Exeter Chiefs welcome Vodacom Bulls in the Heineken Champions Cup on Saturday at 15h00 (SA Time).

Both sides opened their campaigns last week with bonus-point victories, Vodacom Bulls beating Lyon 42-36 at home, and Exeter running out 27-12 winners on the road at Castres Olympique.

It is Heineken Champions Cup debutants Vodacom Bulls’ first match against Gallagher Premiership. Jake White’s visitors have touched down in Devon to temperatures of below zero and wary of the threat of a Chiefs outfit, who won Europe’s top prize just two years ago.

Asked about the challenges of travelling, the Vodacom Bulls mentor, Jake White replied: “There are positives to having our squad in one place 24/7 because we can assemble quicker and chat about the game, versus being at home. So, staying together in a hotel has its advantages that we can make good use of.”

Prediction: Exeter by 5

Exeter's head coach, Rob Baxter made just one change to his starting line-up with England and British Lions hooker Luke Cowan-Dickie recalled after injury to start at hooker and also captain the side. He takes the place of Jack Yeandle, who drops to the replacements bench.

“All of last week we looked at past memories of trips to Europe, montages of games and hearing from past players talking about their experiences,” explained Baxter. “The theme throughout was that Europe offers that massive opportunity to make great memories.

“As a group, it will be something you can always look back on and talk about in years to come. Winning last week was one of those memories and it was great that we stayed the extra night and that the lads could go out, let their hair down and build some memories together.

“In a way, I think it helped bring the best out of us. It was a great night in Europe, a great win and, hopefully, it had provided the foundation for us to kick-start what we can achieve again this weekend.”

The Castres threat a week ago was certainly sizeable and the Chiefs can expect more of the same this weekend from the Bulls.

“There are similar challenges again this week in terms of physicality and around the set-piece,” warned Baxter. “That said, we’ve tried to focus more on ourselves, rather than too much about them. What was good last week was that we had a real alignment in everything we did. That’s not necessarily been there all the time over the last 18 months or so, but we saw it last week and it shows that when we have it, we’re a very powerful team.

“This week, the focus has been a lot on just rediscovering that alignment again and getting ourselves ready for the weekend. If we do that and we get it right, then we give ourselves a great chance of getting something from the game.”

The Vodacom Bulls have made minimal changes to the side that will take on Exeter Chiefs at Sandy Park on Saturday 17 December 2022, for round two of the 2022/23 Heineken Champions Cup. BBCo Director of Rugby, Jake White maintained consistency to personnel as he only makes four changes to the matchday 23 that triumphed over Lyon a week ago.

Both Janko Swanepoel and Chris Barend Smit come into the starting xv from the bench, with Swanepoel slotting in at 5 as Reinhardt Ludwig shifts to 4 in place of Jacques du Plessis. Smit comes in at 12 in place of injured Marco Jansen van Vuuren. Muller Uys and Wj Steenkamp swap jerseys whilst Joe van Zyl, Cameron Hanekom and Carlton Bannies join this week’s impact squad.

Speaking on the squad selection, White said: “I needed them to also play away because it would have been unfair to have a different squad travel to play just the one game. It is only fair for me to give them the opportunity to have a run away from home, an opportunity to back up the performance from the previous week,”

“We have some young guys here, the likes of Cameron Hanekom and Carlton Bannies who come from the under-20s, will be playing for the first-time tomorrow and it’s obviously fantastic for our youngsters to measure themselves against such an experienced team,”

“It is a completely different test for these youngsters, a completely different test for us as a group. Sometimes when you get opportunities you don’t always get them when you want them and you don’t always get them in the environment you want them but that is what makes rugby such a fantastic game.”

Speaking about what his herd expects from Exeter and the reality of a young side, White commented: “I don’t think anyone gave us a chance last week and we got five points against Lyon at home and now we are going to face a star-studded team in Exeter. Having to play in front of sold-out crowds, so the challenge is completely different but having said that, I am fully confident that these guys understand it and they will give it their best.”

White went on to say, “Exeter are a great side, they won this tournament two years ago, in fact, I think they won the double. They have a great squad, great coaches and a great environment here. That means it is going to be tough for us, but that is all part of growing as a group,”

“If I look at their team, they have internationals almost across the field. They are extremely efficient and they can hold onto the ball for 20 phases at times and they will put your defence under huge amounts of pressure. So, I think we got to either hold onto the ball as long as we can and not give it to them, which comes with the risk because if you don’t hold onto the ball with accuracy you can give them the ball and maybe concede penalties which makes it easy for them to enter into your 22,”

“They are a very dangerous team in the 22m, the most efficient in the whole competition so it’s going to be a challenge for us but I have full faith in the guys, playing for the Vodacom Bulls who are a proud rugby club and there are expectations from our supporters and that is why we have got to do our best. I have no doubt they will give more than 100% and hopefully that will be good enough to get the result” White concluded.


Exeter Chiefs: 15. Stuart Hogg, 14. Jack Nowell, 13. Henry Slade, 12. Rory O’Loughlin, 11. Olly Woodburn, 10. Joe Simmonds, 9. Sam Maunder, 8. Sam Simmonds, 7. Christ Tshiunza, 6. Dave Ewers, 5. Jonny Gray, 4. Dafydd Jenkins, 3. Harry Williams, 2. Luke Cowan-Dickie (c), 1. Scott Sio. Replacements: 16. Jack Yeandle, 17. Alec Hepburn, 18. Josh Iosefa-Scott, 19. Ruben van Heerden, 20. Santiago Grondona, 21. Will Becconsall, 22. Solomone Kata, 23. Josh Hodge.

Vodacom Bulls: 15. Wandisile Simelane, 14. Sibongile Novuka, 13. Stedman Gans, 12. Chris B Smith, 11. Stravino Jacobs, 10. Morné Steyn (c), 9. Bernard van der Linde, 8. Muller Uys, 7. WJ Steenkamp, 6. Nizaam Carr, 5. Janko Swanepoel, 4. Reinhardt Ludwig, 3. Jacques van Rooyen, 2. Bismarck Du Plessis, 1. Dylan Smith. Replacements: 16. Joe van Zyl, 17. Lizo Gqoboka, 18. Sebastian Lombard, 19. Cameron Hanekom, 20. Phumzile Maqondwana, 21. Keagan Johannes, 22. Carlton Banies, 23. Juan Mostert.