Rob Baxter admitted it was a “hugely satisfying” feeling after Exeter booked a home quarter-final in the Heineken Champions Cup.
The Chiefs’ 33-14 Pool Two victory over La Rochelle at Sandy Park means they will return there for a last-eight clash – possibly against Saracens – in early April.
The Chiefs were not at their best early on, but they ultimately cruised to a bonus-point victory and secured a first European quarter-final appearance since 2016, when they lost by a point to Wasps.
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Number eight Sam Simmonds led the way with two tries, while hooker Luke Cowan-Dickie, flanker Dave Ewers and substitute scrum-half Stuart Townsend also touched down, with Simmonds’ brother Joe kicking four conversions.
“We were kind of in the box seat (before kick-off), and the other team were coming with relatively little pressure and an ability just to play, and you could see how difficult it can be,” Exeter rugby director Baxter said.
“We showed that in the first half. We didn’t really have that emotional, edgy, very physical, very driven type of performance we’d had through the other rounds in Europe.
“At half-time, we just simplified things and talked about getting out there, being emotional, being tough, being prepared to knock ourselves around, and it looked like two different teams playing out there.
“That is a great credit to the players. They took it into their own hands, and five points in another Champions Cup game is not to be sniffed at.
“It is hugely satisfying (to be at home in the quarter-finals).
“It gives us everything we want out of the competition, which is an opportunity for as many of our supporters to watch it as possible, and it obviously cuts down on the travelling.
“When you get to the last-eight in Europe, you are not going to have an easy game.
“There is not going to be a team that is not quality. It’s going to be a humdinger, whoever we play.
“On the whole, I thought the team grew through the performance.
“To not concede points in the second half (it was 14-14 at the interval) after not defending well at all in the first half was very pleasing. It showed the qualities we can play at.”
But Exeter were unstoppable during the second period, with England internationals Sam Simmonds and Cowan-Dickie in outstanding form ahead of Eddie Jones’ Six Nations squad announcement on Monday.
Assessing Simmonds’ performance, Baxter added: “He is a pocket-rocket. He is very powerful.
“What I like about him is he is becoming one of our leaders. He is out there driving things on the field and demanding things of the team around him.”
Don’t mess with Jim – Episode 5:
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