Exeter boss Rob Baxter feels that achieving a European and domestic trophy double would be “just reward” for his players. But Baxter is also braced for a major challenge from in-form Wasps when the clubs clash in next Saturday’s Gallagher Premiership final.
Wasps’ preparations have been hit by a coronavirus outbreak that saw four players and three members of staff produce positive test results.
Further tests were due to be conducted over the weekend – with a final batch taking place on Tuesday – and third-placed Bristol will replace Wasps at Twickenham if Covid-19 takes an increased hold.
But that scenario of Bristol being propelled into the final appears highly unlikely, and it is all set for a repeat of three years ago when Exeter and Wasps produced a classic Premiership final that Chiefs won after extra-time.
Exeter will prepare for the English season’s climax with the Heineken Champions Cup already in their locker.
A pulsating 31-27 victory over Racing 92 at Ashton Gate gave them a first European crown just 10 years after they were promoted from the Championship.
And if they go on to land the double, Exeter will achieve something that only three English clubs – Leicester, Wasps and Saracens – have so far achieved.
“It would be just reward, I feel, for this group of players, for what they have committed to over the last five years, if we can do the double,” Baxter said.
“I am hoping that will be enough of a driver for us. I think we can play better than we did (against Racing), and we will need to, actually.
“I think Wasps are ready to go, and I think it is going to be a tough game for us, another game when I will be chewing my microphone and cursing and wondering what we are doing, but that’s what finals are like.
“When we had to, we saw it through. We’ve done it at the first attempt, and it is great for this group of players.
“It vindicates what they’ve achieved together over the last four or five years.
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“They’ve had a lot of heartache in that time, really, and they have never backed away or not kept fighting for wanting something more. They have taken a huge step forward.”
Exeter have featured in the last four Premiership finals, losing three of them to Saracens, but they overcame any demons from those defeats to conquer Europe.
Exeter and Racing shared eight tries, yet the Chiefs were never behind, despite Racing throwing everything at them in their quest for a first European title at the third attempt.
Racing’s Ireland international full-back Simon Zebo became only the fourth player to score two tries in a European Cup final, but it was Exeter’s forward power and defensive resilience that ultimately saw them home, particularly after prop Tomas Francis was sin-binned nine minutes from time.
“It was an emotional game,” Baxter added. “We had control of it, then lost control of it, then we had to fight like we did at the end with 14 men.
“I’ve never seen a group of players work as hard as this group has worked, and if you work hard, you deserve good things.”
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