England star Henry Slade believes the pain of previous disappointments helped elevate Exeter to the summit of European rugby.
The Chiefs conquered Europe following a pulsating 31-27 Heineken Champions Cup final victory over Racing 92 at Ashton Gate.
It came after three losing Premiership final appearances, while Exeter centre Slade also featured in last year’s World Cup final when England were beaten by South Africa.
“It has been an unreal year,” Slade said.
“The World Cup final was an unbelievable experience to be there, but a massive disappointment. I had been thinking that winning this (Champions Cup) would make me feel way better.
“This is obviously the next best thing, and winning it is unbelievable.
“I remember back to being a kid and a teenager watching this tournament and wanting to be in it one day. To have the chance to go and win it is such a special feeling.”
Exeter will return to Twickenham next Saturday for a Premiership final appointment with Wasps, three years after their last title showdown required extra-time before Chiefs prevailed 23-20.
But the pain of three defeats to Saracens on English club rugby’s showpiece occasion is also firmly in Exeter’s memory bank as they target a domestic and European double.
“We’ve been through the mill a bit,” Slade added.
“We’ve had our success in finals, and we’ve also had a fair bit of disappointment as well. As a squad, we are definitely using those learnings really well.
“We are at a really good age across the squad. We’ve all been in those experiences, and we’ve all learnt from them.
“It has put us in a really good position, and we feel confident whenever we take the field. Hopefully, we can push on from here.”
Exeter’s resilience and unbreakable spirit surfaced during a frenzied finale against Racing.
Chiefs prop Tomas Francis was yellow-carded nine minutes from time and Racing threw everything at their opponents, going through attacking phase after phase barely five metres from Exeter’s line, but a 14-man defensive wall stood firm.
“The message the whole game was, ‘just make sure we stay in it, stay in it’. The way we dug in and defended our line in the last bit was unbelievable,” Slade added.
“I am so proud of everyone who took the field, and all the coaching staff and everyone who has put in the work to put us in this position.
“It is such a good feeling. We’ve had so much disappointment in finals in the last few years, and to do this now is unbelievable.”
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