Brad Barritt knows all about the pressure Exeter will be feeling as they attempt to emulate Saracens, Wasps and Leicester by winning a Heineken Champions Cup and Gallagher Premiership double.
Barritt captained Saracens to their second double last season, beating Leinster in the European Cup final at Newcastle and then breaking Exeter hearts with an amazing 37-34 comeback win in the Premiership final at Twickenham.
Handling the mental and physical pressure of knowing you could become English and European champions in the space of a week or end up with absolutely nothing is the major challenge for Exeter, who are keenly aware of the vastly differing emotions that lie ahead.
Veteran No10 Gareth Steenson has admitted: “We could be sitting here is two weeks’ time with nothing. We could be the most disappointed team in England.”
Being left to reflect on the massive disappointment of losing both finals is something Barritt and Saracens had to endure in 2014 when Toulon beat them 23-6 in Europe and Northampton then secured the Premiership title 24-20 in extra-time at Twickenham.
#ThrowbackThursday to the moment @ExeterChiefs earned a spot in the #HeinekenChampionsCup Final for the first time ?@joesimmo10 sells a sumptuous dummy before dancing through the Toulouse defenders to dot down at the posts ? pic.twitter.com/uxNZ8YKKbL
— Heineken Champions Cup (@ChampionsCup) October 8, 2020
That disastrous end to the season, however, turned out to be absolutely crucial in the evolution of Saracens into the most dominant force in European rugby. While their critics still insist their titles are tarnished due to the salary cap breaches that have seen them relegated to the Championship next season, the record books still show Sarries as double champions in 2016 and 2019.
Exeter are now making their first appearance in a Champions Cup final when they face Racing 92 at Bristol on Saturday and have made the last four Premiership finals, beating Wasps in 2017 but losing to Saracens in 2016, 2018 and 2019.
Barritt, who has returned to South Africa with his family on Tuesday after a stellar career at the London club, told RugbyPass: “It’s an incredibly exciting journey to have the chance of winning the double and when we did achieve it twice we had been through that difficult and heartbreaking episode in 2014.
“To lose back-to-back finals was really hard for the club, particularly how that Premiership season had gone when we had been very dominant. We had the disappointment of having had a loss in the Champions Cup final and the next weekend having to front up in the Premiership final.
“It took some weeks for the guys to deal with the mental anguish. It’s not a switch you can flick – it is a process. It hurt a lot but we showed a lot of resilience and fight to become better.
“However, winning the first final gives you incredible emotions going into the next one and you are able to push for something even bigger. There is no miracle formula but the momentum of winning that first final definitely galvanised us as a team for the second.
“While there is a physical toll of back-to-back finals, it is a mental challenge and being able to cope with the pressure when things get tight is key. Ultimately, it comes down to execution under pressure and the team that deals best with the mental setbacks can take the game.
“Exeter have gone up a gear considerably and have been the form team in all the competitions and are well poised. They have played some fantastic rugby in a crazy year which now culminates in mid-October which seems rather bizarre.
“But the strength of the English game has shone with two teams in the semi-finals and it shows the Premiership is one of the most formidable leagues in the world.”
Barritt insists his own playing career is not about to restart in South Africa where he is set to open a third outlet for his Tiki Tonga coffee brand. “We would love to be preparing for a European final. It wasn’t to be but we showed against Leinster what we feel about each other and managed something remarkable.
“In life, you never say never (about playing). At this present moment, it’s highly unlikely and I’m even thinking about getting my nose fixed. I will be back and forth to the UK with various business roles but we are settling in Cape Town where my wife is hopefully going to be opening a third shop.”
EXCLUSIVE: "It’s a true story. I think I was reffing, he was sinking to the bottom and I jumped in"
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) October 1, 2020
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