World News – GB – Young stars and old friends ready for the Premiership final


Saturday’s Premiership final between Exeter Chiefs and Wasps will be unlike any other because of the Covid-19 pandemic

With the best part of 80,000 empty spaces, the atmosphere of Twickenham will resemble that of a park game rather than the razzmatazz of a grand finale

The game is already four months behind due to the coronavirus halt in the middle of the season, with teams of players assembled for 2020-2021 completing the 2019-20 campaign

While the roster of international stars will not be seen by fans at Twickenham, the eyes of the rugby world from afar will be on two uncapped young Englishmen who have been leaders for their respective clubs this season and friends for quite some time. number of years

Wasps’ Jack Willis has won a series of awards this year and has dominated the breakdown since returning from a serious knee injury that ended hopes of making his England debut more than two years ago. years

The 23-year-old led his club to the inaugural European Champions Cup on October 17 and hopes to guide the Chiefs to a national and continental double

« I stayed with Joe in an Under-20 camp in England during the Six Nations, » flanker Willis, also 23, told BBC Sport

« He’s a great boy, actually the first time we played each other was when we were about 17, I think he was at Ivybridge College and I at Henley College

« It’s interesting that we have kept in touch through the different levels we have played and luckily we are now playing with a lot of enthusiasm on one of the biggest stages in English rugby »

Like Willis, whose brother Tom plays alongside him at Wasps, Simmonds is also part of a family dynasty in Exeter

His brother Sam was named European player of the year after being the Champions Cup top try-scorer

Since making his full debut in March 2018 against Saracens, he has toppled club legend and points record holder Gareth Steenson as a half-flyover of Exeter

« I think it’s thanks to his efforts to recover from such a serious injury. He’s definitely playing his best rugby right now and he’s been brilliant this year for Wasps »

Barring an injury, Willis looks set to be ready for England recognition soon, but Simmonds has fierce competition in the demi-fly

While George Ford and Owen Farrell have been Eddie Jones’ go-to players lately, Simmonds is one of many talented youngsters to rise through the ranks alongside Harlequins’ Marcus Smith, Wasps’ Jacob Umaga, Manu Vunipola and James Grayson from Northampton

« I would love to play for England, I think it is the dream of anyone growing up to want to play for your country, » Simmonds added

« It definitely pushes me to see Sam having played seven times for England, but for me right now I’m just making sure I play and win trophies for Exeter If I do that I hope that I will get recognition if I play well enough to play international rugby « 

While Exeter’s Rob Baxter is the longest-serving Premiership rugby manager, Lee Blackett’s tenure at Wasps has just 12 games

But both men were second tier England Rugby Union opponents as players; Blackett’s Rotherham team were the opponents in Baxter’s last game as a player for Exeter, with the Chiefs winning 41-33 on a hot day in April 2005

“I scored a try”, Baxter recalls “I don’t really remember Lee playing that day, but I do remember playing against him on several occasions »

With Wasps worried about whether they could play in the final after a series of positive tests for Covid-19, the dialogue between the two has been regular

« In fact, we’ve had a pretty open relationship that comes and goes, especially the past three or four weeks around the Covid situation, » Baxter added

« I gave Lee a little bit of advice on some things, he’s been talking to me very openly over the last couple of weeks about the Wasps script

« I think there is sometimes a myth around rugby directors that we don’t communicate unofficially, it’s all through the newspapers It’s a pile of garbage, a lot of texting goes on, a lot of very open conversations take place about all kinds of things « 

« He was tough and physical, Exeter was a horrible place to go, especially in the old land they had

« He’s a great guy, someone I respect tremendously for what he’s done for this club over the past 10 years How can you not respect where he’s taken them? »

That respect extended to Blackett texting Baxter early Wednesday to tell him his Wasps team had been given the green light to play Exeter, allowing Baxter to focus his efforts on the Wasps rather than Bristol , who was waiting to replace their

« I thought it was fair, I know if I was Rob you would be worried about who you were going to play, so I texted him at 6:30 am just telling him to give them so much prep. it’s just the respect we have for each other « 

The specter of Covid-19 loomed widely over this final but, for those on the phone, it led to sleepless nights as they waited to see if they would be allowed to play

« I checked my phone all night, » Wasps captain Joe Launchbury said of the club’s latest round of tests, which came back negative in the early hours of Wednesday

« I was following our head physio Ali James he was brilliant you can go to WhatsApp and see when they last accessed it

« I was looking to see when he was last online and knew if he was up there must be some movement going on »

As time went on, the Wasps were allowed to play, but their advantage of two clear weeks to prepare for Exeter was ruined Rather than team drills and tactics, players performed individual fitness work at local rugby clubs

« The matches so far we’ve had very tight deadlines, so we have targeted this as a little different way of preparing for a match, but that has obviously been taken away from us, » added the Cup of the world finalist

« But I’m really happy with how everyone is prepared, the backstage staff have been fantastic and all of the players have been perfect too »

Wasps RFC, Premiership Rugby, Exeter Chiefs, Rugby union, Jack Willis

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