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Champions Cup quarter-final is next stop for Exeter's Tank

Thomas "The Tank" Waldrom will rumble into Coventry on Saturday for a return Ricoh Arena trip that could see him drive Exeter further towards their intended destination of a European Champions Cup final place.

The last time he stopped off in Wasps' territory, Waldrom scored three tries as Exeter's Champions Cup quarter-final opponents this weekend suffered their heaviest defeat of the season.

Whether history repeats itself is debatable, but it is unlikely to be for the lack of trying given 32-year-old former England number eight Waldrom's remarkable statistics.

After topping last year's Aviva Premiership try chart with 16 touchdowns, he leads the way this term after adding another 13 to his collection, making it 29 in 40 league appearances for Exeter. As a comparison, Chiefs and England wing Jack Nowell has scored 11 in 41.

The majority of Waldrom's prolific points accumulating is done from close range at his fellow forwards' heels, yet he is so good at it that a player who tips the scales at almost 18 stone proves pretty much unstoppable.

"Physically, his shape does allow him to hold his feet," Exeter head coach Rob Baxter said.

"A taller, rangier guy could get lassoed and chopped down.

"Obviously, his physique does help, but it takes some rugby-smart thinking as well to decide the right moment and when to go and know when support is around you.

"He doesn't just do the same thing every time. There is a bit of variety to what he does.

"He also plays with a group of lads who know what he's going to do, and so there is a bit of a synergy there now to helping him over the line.

"The lads don't think in any way that he is being greedy. They know he is good at it, and they help him do it."

Exeter enter uncharted territory on Saturday as the only one of five English quarter-final challengers making a top-flight European debut in the knockout phase, while Wasps are bidding for a first last-four appearance since 2007.

With Exeter currently second in the Premiership, and Wasps lying third, it is conceivable that they could face each other in next month's title play-offs three weeks after a return Premiership meeting in Devon.

Baxter's Exeter coaching colleague Ali Hepher added: " From day one in the Premiership, Rob Baxter said we were going to attack the competition and attack teams. It's the best way to win trophies.

"For too long there has been an emphasis on building up power in the gym. You need to be able to play rugby as well as out-power teams. After all, rugby is a game of evasion more than collision."

Australia international Lachie Turner lines up at full-back for Exeter in the absence of an injured Phil Dollman, while England flanker James Haskell captains Wasps, with a return among the replacements for scrum-half Joe Simpson, who has not played since suffering an ankle injury 11 weeks ago.

"It has been a real squad effort to reach the last eight, and we are proud to have come through such a tough pool to earn a home quarter-final, but we obviously don't want it to end here," Wasps rugby director Dai Young said.

"Everything now comes down to 80 minutes on Saturday. This is knockout rugby at the highest level that any player can compete at with their club."

Premiership leaders Saracens will start as firm favourites to topple Allianz Park visitors Northampton on Saturday, with the winners facing Wasps or Exeter in a semi-final showdown at Reading's Madejski Stadium on April 23.

"We know Saracens' quality, and their senior players are playing well," Northampton rugby director Jim Mallinder said.

"Saracens is a difficult place to play. It is a plastic pitch, and often it's windy, and you have to get to grips with those conditions. We've done it in the past, and hopefully we can do it again.

"In the past, we've gone down there, been brave and not been daunted by the prospect. You have to face up to Saracens' physicality, and the set-piece is huge against them."

Leicester, meanwhile, complete the sizeable English contingent in Champions Cup action this weekend when they host Stade Francais at Welford Road on Sunday, with European title holders Toulon facing a Paris appointment with Racing 92.


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