Unfashionable Exeter are on the cusp of a remarkable Heineken Champions Cup/Gallagher Premiership after Rob Baxter guided them to finals that will be played on successive October weekends, starting with this Saturday’s European decider versus Racing in Bristol.
This showpiece appearance arrives ten years after the Chiefs were first promoted to the English top-flight and after lifting their first title with a 2017 extra-time win over Wasps, they are now hoping to encounter the same opposition in the Premiership decider next weekend as the newly crowned European champions.
Exeter have been largely been on fire since the post-lockdown resumption of rugby in England. They won their first six league games to guarantee home advantage at Sandy Park in the semi-final.
And while they then finished out their regular season programme with three defeats, those losses were offset by their impressive progress in Europe where they comfortably defeated Northampton and Toulouse in the quarter and semi-finals.
Exeter then defeated Bath in last weekend’s league semi-final to book another final appearance, and Baxter has now traced their rude health back to the late August destruction of Worcester on a 59-7 scoreline.
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) October 16, 2020
“We understood that this was a short period to get absolutely match fit, to be at your absolute peak of playing capability,” he said. “The approach was to maximise every minute of a game to physically improve as well and what you saw in the latter stages of the competition is we did that really well.
“What really highlighted it to me that the players were really getting it was when we played Worcester here in a midweek game, our first midweek game where we went with what you call the frontline 23.
“We won it pretty well but we worked flat out until the 80th minute. Despite having a clear scoreline we actually posted some of our statistically best stats regarding distance covered both collectively and individually, the speed those distances were attained, the heart rates and workrates we managed to attain across the group.
“Effectively it became the group learning really well that the game was more than just collecting the five points, it was actually about what can we physically get out of the game – and we have seen that grow from then which is exactly what we wanted to happen.
“It was a challenge we set the players. From them on really once we had beaten Worcester, with the results that were happening around the rest of the league the challenge became far more how we can challenge ourselves physically to prepare for Heineken Cup games, Premiership semi-finals than actually the points. You probably saw that in our approach over the last month or so.”
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— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) October 14, 2020
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