Scrum-half Haydn Thomas will become just the 24th player in the Devon club’s distinguished history to reach the milestone when he runs out in what should be another sell-out crowd at Sandy Park.
It is a fitting honour for a player who initially made his Exeter debut – under former Director of Rugby Ian Bremner – as a half-time replacement away to Bedford Blues in October 2003.
Former Bath youngster Thomas spent two seasons at the County Ground before making a move to the Premiership where he set up base at Gloucester for two seasons. He featured 31 times for the Cherry & Whites before making the short move to Bristol, where he again he spent two seasons plying his trade in the top flight making 36 outings in all competitions.
His impressive displays at the Memorial Stadium alerted the Chiefs once more of his talents and in the summer of 2009 he returned to Exeter to help play a pivotal role in the club’s rise into the Premiership for the first time.
This season Thomas, who recently penned a new three-year deal with the club, has again be a central figure in Exeter’s charge, starting every league game up until the away fixture at Leeds Carnegie last month.
A blow to the head sustained in the loss at London Irish meant the 28-year-old sat out the league losses to Bath and Saracens, but he returned to the fray in Exeter’s last league outing at Sale Sharks, where he helped play his part in the club’s 30-24 victory at Edgeley Park.
Now, the Birmingham-born back is ready to take centre stage in a fixture which, if the Chiefs win by more than eight points, will guarantee them eighth spot in the Premiership.
“I was aware my 100th game was coming up and I knew it could be achieved this season before I got injured,” he said. “The injury kept me out for a few weeks and I wondered if I would do it this season or not. I’ve been lucky to come back from injury in time and it’s nice that it’s worked out that my 100th league game is at home.”
Thomas added: “The hundred club is a fantastic club to be a member of. You look at the names on the honours board and there’s not that many of them. It’s nice to be part of it and my name will always be there. I’m really proud of what I’ve achieved. We’ve still got to concentrate on this game, it’s no different to any other – we want to go out and win and I want to do my best for the team.”
With a bumper home crowd on offer to celebrate Thomas’ special occasion, the player himself is hopeful he and his team-mates can round off a memorable season with a big performance.
“We want to finish the season well so that we go into next season feeling confident,” he said. “We haven’t approached this game any differently to any other, we want to attack it and go and enjoy it.
“It would be fantastic for us all to finish the season the way we started it and cap a good season. We haven’t worried too much about league position, I think it’s more about giving the fans something back for their loyal support throughout the year. We want to finish the season well. If we jump above them in the league then brilliant, but a win’s the first thing and see what that brings afterwards.”
Those sentiments are echoed by Exeter’s assistant coach Ali Hepher, who confirmed the club would stick with the same starting XV as that which saw off Sale. The only changes come on the bench where Ignacio Elosu replaces the unavailable Chris Budgen, who is playing for the British Army in their clash with the Royal Navy at Twickenham, and Jason Shoemark takes over from Bryan Rennie.
“We want to put in a good performance to thank the supporters, they’ve been phenomenal all season,” said Hepher. “Everyone has got behind the club and we’ve needed it. They’ve created a hell of an atmosphere at Sandy Park that’s probably the envy of most Premiership clubs.
“We should be proud of it, we’re proud of the supporters, but equally the players have produced something that makes the supporters proud of them, so it works both ways. We’d like to say thanks and send them off into the summer with some memories of a good performance at home.”
After tomorrow’s game, which will include a number of award presentations at the final whistle, the Chiefs will have the next seven weeks off before returning for a gruelling pre-season where they will once more prepare themselves for another testing campaign in the Premiership.
Although delighted with how the club’s maiden journey in the Premiership has gone, Hepher says the time is now right for the players to recharge their batteries after a punishing season of rugby.
“I think the break has come at the right time for everyone,” he said. “That said, we’re still pushing hard, we’ve had some great training sessions this week, and we’re looking a really good side.
“That’s something that has developed through the year. If you look back at the highlights of some of the games earlier in the year, then we’ve definitely shifted on as the season has gone on. It’s one of those seasons you don’t want to end but, equally, I think everyone is really looking forward to next season already, and seeing how much we can push on again.”
With Wasps making their second visit of the season to Sandy Park, the Chiefs – who won the previous LV= Cup encounter back in November 29-9 – aim to finish with a bang.
EXETER CHIEFS SIDE TO FACE LONDON WASPS
15 Luke Arscott
14 Matt Jess
13 Phil Dollman
12 Sireli Naqelevuki
11 Nic Sestaret
10 Ignacio Mieres
9 Haydn Thomas
1 Brett Sturgess
2 Neil Clark
3 Hoani Tui
4 Tom Hayes (capt)
5 James Hanks
6 Tom Johnson
7 James Scaysbrook
8 Richard Baxter
16 Chris Whitehead
17 Ben Moon
18 Ignacio Elosu
19 Chad Slade
20 James Phillips
21 Junior Poluleuligaga
22 Gareth Steenson
23 Jason Shoemark
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