Last season it was a watching brief for Matt Kvesic, but on Saturday the all-action forward aims to lead from the front as Exeter Chiefs target Gallagher Premiership Rugby glory against Saracens at Twickenham.
Kvesic has been a stand-out figure for Rob Baxter’s side this season, producing a catalogue of impressive displays that have not only guided the Chiefs back to the capital for a fourth successive year, but at the same time have put the player himself back on a pedestal within English rugby’s top flight.
Not only has the former Gloucester and Worcester Warriors star underlined his strength as a destructive force at the breakdown, but it’s his try-scoring abilities and his powerful running that have also made him a key cog within the Chiefs wheel this term.
It’s a far cry from a year ago when Kvesic was used sporadically during his first season at Sandy Park. The 27-year-old, like others before him, had to play the waiting game before getting his proper chance to shine in Exeter colours.
This season, however, Kvesic has grasped his opportunity with both hands and now finds himself within touching distance of helping the Devonians to a second Premiership crown.
“On a personal note, I have really enjoyed this season,” he said. “I haven’t been involved in a final at club level for a while now, so it’s a very exciting time for me. At the same time, this has been a great club effort as a whole.
“We have had a fantastic season to finish top and I think our consistency shows where we are as a team. The standards are constantly being pushed higher. The whole club is completely focus on this one moment.
“We’ve work very hard all year, we did a great job to beat Saints in the semi-final and now we’re all looking forward to Saturday and the final at Twickenham.”
Standing in the way of the Chiefs, however, will be the reigning Premiership and European champions, who themselves have shown their worth during another impressive campaign to date.
Fresh from victory over Leinster in the Heineken Champions Cup earlier this month, Kvesic knows he and his team-mates will need to be on the top of their game to combat the threat of the star-studded Londoners.
“They’ve shown that they’ve been at the top of the Premiership now for the past five or six seasons,” continued Kvesic, who was on the six-man shortlist for this season’s Premiership Player of the Year award. “And there’s been no letting up with them this year, winning the Heineken Cup again. They’re arguably the biggest club in Europe, so it’ll be a big task for us to go up to Twickenham and enforce our game on them. However, if we can do that, then we’ll give ourselves a great chance of winning.
“Saracens are a great side all over the pitch. They have an impressive all-court game and they have plenty of big game players - I won’t list them all because there is too many to count!
“It’s going to be physical, it’s going to be fast, and the weather is going to be hot too, which will make it even more draining for both sides, but it’s going to be a matter of who can stick it out the longest. We have trained like that all year and we back our fitness against anyone, so hopefully we can that again at the weekend.”
Although many of the Chiefs side featured 12 months ago in a 27-10 loss to Sarries, Kvesic was a spectator that day, feeling the same pain and sorrow that his team-mates felt in the aftermath of that loss.
“You could feel the pain of last year’s defeat in the changing room afterwards. It was very quiet,” he said. “We were incredibly disappointed to lose, but I think we were more upset about our performance.
“This time round, we know we need to be physical with them, do the basics right, and implement our game on them. If we do that, there is no reason why we can’t go and win the game.”
Backing Kvesic and the Chiefs all the way will be another hearty contingent of fans who will make the trek from the Westcountry to Twickenham to roar on their side.
“I know Twickenham is going to be pretty busy, but looking back at last weekend, it was definitely the best game that I’ve played in at Sandy Park,” explained Kvesic. “It was so loud, so colourful, and it just felt like the fans were almost on top of you. It must have felt quite intimidating for Saints to come down and face that.
“I’m sure it will be slightly different at Twickenham, there will be plenty of neutrals in the crowd, but I’m sure that half of Devon will be up there supporting us, and they’ll be looking forward to it.”
Via Exeter Chiefs