Another season of Champions Cup rugby, another season of sub-par Exeter Chiefs performances. They are twelve points clear of third placed Gloucester domestically, but sit bottom of their European pool behind Munster, Gloucester and Castres.
The motoring machine of English rugby has fallen apart this campaign, and it is not the first time the wheels have came off. Exeter last progressed from their pool in the 2015/16 season where a quarter-final loss to Premiership rivals Wasps halted their European dream.
Last week gave Exeter the prime opportunity to put themselves in a greater pool position with Gloucester travelling to Sandy Park as underdogs. The Cherry and Whites had last visited Devon two weeks prior and failed to register a single try.
European rugby brings a new dimension to Gloucester, who have not featured in the top-flight since the 2013/14 season. The Kingsholm side rose to the challenge of Sandy Park, out-Chiefing the Chiefs to grind out a 27-19 win, a performance that produced yet another standout performance from Premiership Player of the Month, Ollie Thorley.
Ben Morgan and Jake Polledri controlled the collisions while Thorley danced through the Exeter defence. The home side were unable to dominate the scrum and vitally failed to secure any consolidating points from the bruising encounter.
This weekend, the 2017 English champions take on Gloucester at Kingsholm in a last grasp chance to salvage any hopes of a European campaign left remaining. Friday night lights at Castle Grim is often a place to be feared, but Exeter will travel to their rivals knowing they need a five-point haul to keep their European hopes alive.
It is mathematically possible for Exeter to progress from their pool, but they will need 15 points from three games to be in the mix. They head to Kingsholm before hosting French champions Castres and a daunting trip to Munster and Thomond Park rounds off a difficult European schedule.
Gloucester shone last week in their game management and ability to play direct rugby, faculties so often affiliated with Exeter. This week's away side will need to adapt to the hostile environment facing them and the daunting challenge of silencing the Shed.
Exeter are sending a fairly strong side to Gloucester, but with the unlikelihood of European progression and the afterthought of facing Saracens the following weekend, Rob Baxterâs decision to exclude his big names altogether or restrict them to a bench role is understandable.
Nic White and Henry Slade are left out of the Chiefsâ 23 while a back row of Sean Lonsdale, Don Armand, and Tom Lawday should provide a stable, if slightly inexperienced, base for the Chiefs drive against the Gloucester pack.
Gloucester boss Johan Ackermann has picked close to his first-choice team, including a first start for South Africa player of the year nominee Franco Mostert in the engine room. With the return of Billy Twelvetrees in the midfield working in tandem with star player Danny Cipriani, Gloucesterâs while a back-three of Jason Woodward, Charlie Sharples, and Ollie Thorley will look to once again cause havoc for the Chiefs' defence.
Friday is sure to be a hotly contested affair, both sides will want European bragging rights but Exeter's away record in Europe is poor and Gloucester should have enough quality to pick up their third win of the campaign.
Match details: Gloucester vs Exeter Chiefs
Where: Kingsholm Stadium, Gloucester
TV: BT Sport 2, coverage from 7pm
15. Jason Woodward
14. Charlie Sharples
13. Billy Twelvetrees
12. Owen Williams
11. Ollie Thorley
10. Danny Cipriani
9. Willi Heinz (capt)
1. Josh Hohneck
2. Jacon Visagie
3. Fraser Balmain
4. Ed Slater
5. Franco Mostert
6. Freddie Clarke
7. Gareth Evans
8. Ben Morgan
16. Henry Walker, 17. Alex Seville, 18. Ciaran Knight, 19. Gerbrandt Grobler, 20. Alex Craig, 21. Callum Braley, 22. Matt Banahan, 23. Tom Hudson
15 Joe Simmonds
14 Santiago Cordero
13 Ian Whitten
12 Sam Hill
11 Tom OâFlaherty
10 Gareth Steenson
9 Jack Maunder
1 Alec Hepburn
2 Jack Yeandle (capt)
3 Tomas Francis
4 Dave Dennis
5 Sam Skinner
6 Sean Lonsdale
7 Don Armand
8 Tom Lawday
16 Elvis Taione, 17 Ben Moon, 18 Harry Williams, 19 Mitch Lees, 20 Wilhelm Van der Sluys, 21 Sam Maunder, 22 Ollie Devoto, 23 Phil Dollman