(Reuters) - Wasps go into Saturday’s Premiership final without Brad Shields, Kieran Brookes, Simon McIntyre and Alfie Barbeary, ruled out due to contact tracing protocols, but also missing Malakai Fekitoa through a groin injury sustained in the semi-final.
Wasps were cleared to play the final against European champions Exeter on Wednesday after 11 positive tests in the camp and coach Lee Blackett was forced into four changes from the team that thrashed Bristol in the semi-final.
The absence of England duo back rower Shields and prop Brookes is a blow but missing destructive former All Black centre Fekitoa potentially looks the biggest hit to their chances of an upset. He is replaced by former Springbok Juan de Jongh, who has made only a handful of starts in an injury-hit season.
“If we are all being honest, it hasn’t been ideal preparation, but I have to give credit to the players because they have coped with it admirably,” Blackett said on Friday.
“It has been a difficult week in terms of all of that, but the one thing that we spoke about at the start of the season is being adaptable. Now the players will do everything they can to put in a performance on Saturday. We know it will be tough, Exeter deservedly finished top of the league this season, but we are confident with the form that we can take into the game.”
Despite overcoming Racing 92 to win the European Champions Cup last week, Exeter boss Rob Baxter has also made four changes.
Sam Skinner takes over from his Scottish international team mate Jonny Gray at lock and Jannes Kirsten is preferred to fellow South African Jacques Vermeulen in the back-row. In the backs Ollie Devoto comes into the centres alongside Henry Slade while Olly Woodburn replaces Tom O’Flaherty on the right wing. Gray, Vermeulen and Ian Whitten all drop to the bench, but O’Flaherty misses out.”Of course you dream - we’re one game away from doing the double,” said Baxter. “But experience has taught me many times that dreams don’t count for much, it’s the hard work you put out on the field which makes it all happen.”
The match will be refereed by Craig Maxwell-Keys after Wayne Barnes had to step down after testing positive for COVID-19.
15 Stuart Hogg, 14 Jack Nowell,13 Henry Slade, 12 Ollie Devoto, 11 Olly Woodburn, 10 Joe Simmonds (captain), 9 Jack Maunder, 1 Alec Hepburn, 2 Luke Cowan-Dickie, 3 Harry Williams, 4 Sam Skinner, 5 Jonny Hill, 6 Dave Ewers, 7 Jannes Kirsten, 8 Sam Simmonds.
Replacements: 16 Jack Yeandle, 17 Ben Moon, 18 Tomas Francis, 19 Jonny Gray, 20 Jacques Vermeulen, 21 Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, 22 Gareth Steenson, 23 Ian Whitten.
15 Matteo Minozzi, 14 Zach Kibirige, 13 Juan de Jongh, 12 Jimmy Gopperth, 11 Josh Bassett, 10 Jacob Umaga, 9 Dan Robson, 1 Tom West, 2 Tommy Taylor, 3 Jeff Toomaga-Allen, 4 Joe Launchbury (captain), 5 Will Rowlands, 6 Jack Willis, 7 Thomas Young, 8 Tom Willis.
Replacements: 16 Gabriel Oghre, 17 Ben Harris, 18 Biyi Alo 19 James Gaskell, 20 Ben Morris, 21 Ben Vellacott, 22 Lima Sopoaga, 23 Michael Le Bourgeois.
Reporting by Mitch Phillips; Editing by Toby Davis
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