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'Everybody outside the club has been talking about the how the castle is crumbling'

By PA
Stuart Hogg celebrates as they speak with Joe Simmonds after their side's victory during the Heineken Champions Cup Quarter Finals match between Exeter Chiefs and DHL Stormers at Sandy Park on April 08, 2023 in Exeter, England. (Photo by Ryan Hiscott/Getty Images)

Exeter boss Rob Baxter hailed “a great performance” by the Chiefs after they cruised into this season’s Heineken Champions Cup semi-finals by crushing the Stormers 42-17 at Sandy Park.

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The Chiefs, Champions Cup winners in 2020, will face La Rochelle or Saracens in the last four later this month after a six-try success.

If reigning European champions La Rochelle beat Saracens on Sunday, the semi-final will be in Bordeaux, but a Saracens triumph would send a mouth-watering all-English showdown to Bristol City’s Ashton Gate.

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“For me, personally, I would put (the performance) near the top,” rugby director Baxter said.

“We achieved an incredible thing for this rugby club two years ago by winning a double (of Champions Cup and Premiership crowns).

“Ever since then, everybody outside the club has been talking about the how the castle has been crumbling. My biggest motivation has been to make sure that is not the case.

“You don’t get to a Champions Cup semi-final if everything is wrong. At the end of the day, we are not a broken rugby club.

“We have got the DNA within us that will bring us through a lot of challenges, which is why today feels pretty special. We have knocked over the United Rugby Championship champions, and we have done it in some style.”

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Looking ahead to the semi-finals, Baxter added: “If La Rochelle win, we get to go to France. The players will love it, and we have turned up in France on big days in the past and performed extremely well.

“If Saracens win, we may as well say it – the old enemy – at Ashton Gate. We’ve got pretty good memories there, and we will get a lot of support there.

“It’s the guys who were incredible today that nobody notices that makes a performance like that. It’s what makes it a great performance.”

Exeter skipper Jack Nowell, meanwhile, took a knock to his leg during the first half, and Baxter said: “He has got a bit of a tweak.

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“To be honest, I can’t see him not being available for the semi-final. Where he will be over the next couple of weeks we will have to wait and see.”

Just a week on from a stamina-sapping victory over Montpellier that was decided on try count after extra-time, Exeter delivered an immense performance that saw them dominate every key area.

The Stormers encountered difficulties travelling from Cape Town to Devon, and they were never in contention as Exeter posted tries during the first 30 minutes from full-back Tom Wyatt, captain Jack Nowell and his fellow wing Olly Woodburn, all converted by Joe Simmonds.

And when number eight Sam Simmonds scored just five minutes into the second half, again converted by the fly-half, it effectively ended the contest, before Jack Yeandle and Tom Cairns crossed for late tries that Joe Simmonds improved.

The Stormers were more accomplished after the break, claiming tries from full-back Damian Willemse, wing Suleiman Hartzenberg and lock Marvin Orie, plus one Manie Libbok conversion, but the damage had long been done as the Chiefs marched on.

Stormers head coach John Dobson said: “We flew out in three or four groups from South Africa, and the last group got into Exeter on Wednesday.

“I thought we did as well as we could with the cards, but were blown off the field by Exeter in the first 20-25 minutes. It looked like the Exeter team of a couple of years ago.

“But we have loved the experience of the Champions Cup. Everything is brand-new for us.”

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