'That's often the biggest challenge': Exeter's biggest Irish fear
Rob Baxter wants his Exeter players to maximise opportunities for a couple of golden years following Chiefs’ 2020 European and domestic double. Baxter’s team resume Heineken Champions Cup business against tournament heavyweights Munster on Saturday in the round of 16. Munster have reached the competition’s knockout phase for a 20th time and represent a major hurdle for Exeter to overcome across home and away legs, starting in Devon this weekend.
Exeter’s European title defence ended at the quarter-final stage against Leinster last season, while they are currently involved in a multi-club battle to reach the Gallagher Premiership play-offs. “I would like to think we are going out there to be ourselves and just show the best of ourselves and not leave any regrets behind,” Baxter said ahead of the Sandy Park encounter.
“My biggest concern over the end of last season and probably a little bit of this season is that I don’t want the players walking away and maybe in ten years’ time they look back and think, ‘We could have had a couple of golden years following that double and we didn’t really maximise the opportunities we had as a group’. That’s the one thing I am continually trying to fight against.
“I don’t want them to miss these opportunities to be the kind of team they can be because I do know there is a lot more in us.”
The two-leg format is a first in European Cup history. Baxter added: “You don’t want to be ahead or behind and concede late scores that could hurt you in the second leg, so there is a slightly different challenge there.
“Every point and every minute is going to be very important. Any team that feels like they are getting the job done becomes in danger. No matter what happens in this first leg, unless it goes terribly wrong, nobody is going to be out of the competition. Champions Cup games at this level are traditionally fairly tight, so it is going to create some amazing spectacles in the following week.”
Exeter and Munster met in the 2018/19 European Cup pool stage, with a 10-10 draw at home being followed by a 9-7 defeat for the Chiefs in Limerick. “What you find with the Irish provinces is they tend to be able to maintain a level of pressure and physical intensity across the spectrum of the game, and that’s often the biggest challenge with them,” continued Exeter boss Baxter.
“They can create that wearing-down process and capitalise on your mistakes. We would like to think we are pretty good that way as well. The reality is we are looking at this game as an opportunity to go out and play well in a big European fixture against a team with a lot of history in the competition. It is going to be a great challenge, and one of those games where you have really got to roll your sleeves up for 80 minutes. I am hoping that will bring the best out of us.”
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