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Jun 26, 2021 at 5.30pm UK
Exeter Chiefs
Gray (18'), Hepburn (29'), Simmonds (49'), Devoto (54'), Hogg (78')
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Preview: Exeter Chiefs vs. Harlequins - predictions, team news, head to head record

:Headline: Preview: Exeter Chiefs vs. Harlequins - predictions, team news, head to head record:
Sports Mole previews Saturday's Gallagher Premiership final between Exeter Chiefs and Harlequins, including predictions, team news and head to head records.
Sports Mole

After two all-time classic semi-finals, Exeter Chiefs and Harlequins will do battle to be crowned champions on England when they face off in a mouth-watering Gallagher Premiership final at Twickenham on Saturday.

Perennial finalists, the Chiefs are bidding to retain the title they won last year, while Harlequins have only been crowned Premiership champions once before - in 2011-12.

Match preview

The fact that only 10,000 fans will be permitted entry to Twickenham on Saturday has drawn criticism from both clubs and rugby as a whole, but those 10,000 supporters should at least be in for a cracking contest.

A showdown between the division's two highest-scoring teams and two leading try scorers will always whet the appetite, but the thrilling nature in which they both booked their places at Twickenham last weekend has only served to ramp up the expectation level.

The Chiefs' place in the final is almost a given now, with this their sixth showpiece in a row, but they were taken all the way by Sale Sharks in the semi-final before running out 40-30 winners at Sandy Park.

It speaks volumes that a 70-point classic was only the second-best semi-final of the day, though, with Quins having earlier pulled off the biggest Premiership rugby comeback of all time to oust the Bristol Bears.

Billy Millard's men would have been forgiven for believing that their Twickenham hopes were over when they fell 28 points behind with just 28 minutes on the clock at Ashton Gate, and they did not get on the scoresheet themselves until just before half time.

However, a stirring second-half fightback saw the 80 minutes end level at 31-31, before two tries in extra time sealed a first final for Quins since they lifted the trophy for the one and only time in 2012.

Having upset the odds already once against Bristol, the regular-season table-toppers, Harlequins must now pull off arguably an even bigger shock if they are to end their nine-year wait to be crowned champions for a second time.

Exeter have become the team to beat in recent years, particularly after Saracens' relegation, with their current run of six successive finals second to only Leicester Tigers' run of nine in the annals of English rugby history.

The Tigers are one of only four clubs to have won back-to-back titles - and one of only three in the Premiership era - and if the Chiefs are able to join that elite company with victory on Saturday then they would have to go down as one of English rugby's greatest ever teams.

As it is, two titles from their previous five trips to the final is a slightly underwhelming return, and another defeat this weekend would surely raise questions as to whether the team deserve to be included in that conversation.

Rob Baxter's side are certainly deserved favourites, though, having backed up their historic league and European double last season with another shot at silverware this term.

The Chiefs come into the final having won each of their last eight Premiership matches, stretching back to the end of March, and boasting the best defensive record in the league this season.

That could prove to be a defining factor against Harlequins' freewheeling and free-scoring attack, with the London-based club having averaged 32 points a game this season.

It is fair to say that many would not have expected to see this contest end the season after also witnessing what happened in the opening round of fixtures, when Quins were comfortably beaten 33-3 at home to Exeter.

Even as recently as January, Harlequins' place in the playoffs looked doubtful, but the change of head coach from Paul Gustard has worked wonders.

Quins have won 10 of their 14 league outings since that switch, ending a seven-year absence from the playoffs and then becoming only the fourth fourth-placed team to make it all the way to the final.

Only one of those four - Saracens in 2015 - have gone on to lift the trophy, but if Harlequins can do the same then they would join Exeter on two titles, despite the Chiefs' much more regular trips to this stage in recent years.

The underdogs will be encouraged by their record at Rugby HQ too, having lost just one of their last seven visits to Twickenham across all competitions.

Exeter Chiefs Premiership form:
  • W
  • W
  • W
  • W
  • W
  • W

Harlequins Premiership form:
  • W
  • L
  • W
  • L
  • W
  • W

Team News

All eyes will be on the Exeter full-back position for this match, after Baxter remarkably dropped British & Irish Lion and former European Player of the Year Stuart Hogg to the bench for the semi-final last weekend.

The decision to bring in hometown favourite Jack Nowell for only his fourth game of an injury-plagued season - and at full-back instead of on the wing - certainly raised eyebrows, but two tries on his return from a six-week absence certainly vindicated such a big call.

The back three of Nowell, Tom O'Flaherty and Alex Cuthbert all touched down during the semi-final, and so Baxter must decide whether to stick with that trio or to reintroduce Hogg to the fold before he joins up with the Lions one day later.

The Chiefs will still be without Dave Ewers and Sam Skinner due to suspension, but in Sam Simmonds have the Premiership Player of the Year after a record-breaking season of try scoring.

Simmonds, who will also join up with the Lions after this match despite his continued England snub, could stretch that unprecedented tally of 20 tries on Saturday, and he will be confident of doing so having scored a hat-trick against Quins in round one.

Harlequins stalwart Danny Care is the next-highest try scorer this season - albeit a whopping eight short of Simmonds - and having also been ignored by Eddie Jones in recent times he will be keen to impress on his return to Twickenham.

Care scored when Quins won the title in 2012 and is one of four players who could become two-time Premiership champions with the club.

Mike Brown is another one of those, but he will be denied the chance for a dream farewell due to suspension, while Joe Marler and Joe Gray complete the quartet.

Andre Esterhuizen could be back available after suspension, while captain Stephan Lewies returned in time for the semi-final, but George Head, Jack Musk, Jordan Els, Nathan Earle, Oscar Beard, Paul Lasike and Will Evans all remain injury doubts.

Quins also boast the top points-scorer in the Premiership this season, with the mercurial Marcus Smith looking to add to his tally of 278 on the short trip to Twickenham.

Head To Head

Exeter have had the better of Quins so far this term, winning both regular-season games - although they left it late on both occasions.

A 33-3 victory at the Stoop in round one gave a slightly flattering look to the contest, and just a single point separated the two sides at Sandy Park in March.

This will be just the second meeting between the two sides at Twickenham, with Quins running out 22-6 winners in the previous showdown in December 2013.

We say: Exeter Chiefs to win

Harlequins have the dazzling attacking talent to beat anyone, as they proved in such enthralling fashion in the semi-final, and they also have plenty of experience in their ranks despite Exeter's far superior recent experience at this stage.

Nonetheless, Exeter have the chance to cement their status as one of English rugby's greatest teams, and we can see them getting the job done in a thriller at Twickenham this weekend.

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