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The clinical August moment which convinced Rob Baxter his Exeter would challenge for two trophies in October

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Harry Trump/Getty Images)

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. 

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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.

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Exeter boss Rob Baxter sets the scene for the Champions Cup final

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Exeter boss Rob Baxter sets the scene for the Champions Cup 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.

“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. 

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“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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Shaylen 58 minutes ago
Jack Willis' Champions Cup masterclass proves English eligibility rules need a rethink

If France, Wales, England, Scotland and Ireland got together and all changed their eligibility laws in the same way SA has it would be absolutely bonkers. All players from all nations involved in Europe would be fair game as would their coaches. The investment in rugby would be supercharged as teams would rush to create dream teams. Transfer markets would be super charged, salary caps may change, private investment would grow as rich backers first buy clubs and then put money into their clubs in an effort to land the best players. The richest clubs and franchises would benefit most but money and players would move across borders at a steady flow. Suddenly countries like Wales and Scotland would have a much larger pool of players to select from who would be developed and improved in systems belonging to their rivals within superstar squads while their clubs receive large sums in the transfer market. The Six Nations would experience a big boost as the best players become available all the time. The Champions cup would become even more fiercely contested as the dream teams clash. Fan engagement would grow as fans would follow their favourite players creating interest in the game across the continent. Transfer markets and windows would become interesting events in themselves, speculation would drive it and rumours of big transfers and interest in players would spread. All of this is speculation and much of it would not eventuate straight away but just like in football the spread of players and talent would create these conditions over time. The transfer markets in European football is proof of this. Football had the same club vs country debate eons ago and favoured an open system. This has made it the largest game in the world with global interest and big money. Rugby needs to embrace this approach in the long run as well

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J
Jon 7 hours ago
Waratahs 'counter-culture' limits Wallaby options for Joe Schmidt

This is a bit dramatic for me, I think the Rebels and Force cultures would be very strong, and if a player is chosen from either, you can be confident they are in a good head space and ready. Whether they quite have the technical or tactical foundations of the other two states is where one would way their risk of selection. I see no need for Schmidt to worry about that risk in this squad. The main reason I could see a predominance of players from Brumbies and Reds, is simple cohesion. What might the coaching group make of what’s lacking in the Tahs, and to a lesser extent Rebels and Force’s, franchise? Certainly sides (players) that are running irish plays like we saw from that lovely McDermott long ball with have a head start. I hope the players can continue it at International level. Really liked what I saw of Wright (don’t know player focus and just hadn’t seen a lot of him anyway) in that game, can see him being a glue in a Wallaby side too. A with the similar worry of selecting players like Ryan, I think it unfounded to worry so much about forward balance at the moment. Including both Wright and Skelton in the same lineout is not going to lose you games gainst Wales. Nor will any unknown weakenss Wales might find in Ryan be exploited to any great extent. It is the perfect time to introduce such a young player. What other shortcuts might Schmidt want to make now, just a year out from hosting BIL? When Gamble came on the scene I thought he had a Pocock ability to break game apart along with performing the role of a openside well. I would be very keen to drop Leota/Hooper for Gamble, and in your squad make up, include Uru as a lock. Did you forget to remove Vunivalu from your team? Would you have Meafou in your squad if you could?

114 Go to comments
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FEATURE Jack Willis' Champions Cup masterclass proves English eligibility rules need a rethink Jack Willis' Champions Cup masterclass proves English eligibility rules need a rethink
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