Exeter boss Rob Baxter is relishing the “fantastic” prospect of a Heineken Champions Cup semi-final against French heavyweights Toulouse. Exeter marched into their first Champions Cup last-four clash after beating Northampton 38-15 at Sandy Park.
And Toulouse, who are chasing a record fifth European title, will present a huge test for the runaway Gallagher Premiership leaders in Devon next Saturday.
“It’s fantastic,” Exeter rugby director Baxter said.
“Ultimately, we need a big challenge now to get the best out of ourselves. I am really looking forward to it.
“I am looking forward to seeing us perform, because I think our focus will be a lot more zeroed-in that it was today.
“There was an everything-to-lose feeling about today, and it was a real test of character for us.
“Today was as much a mental challenge as anything else, but we dealt with it and came through it.
“We’ve got a short training week now, which I think will be good for us. We can re-energise and focus on three or four key elements.
Saints trailed by only four points at half-time, and Baxter added: “We can play a lot better than that, I know we can, but Northampton came here and challenged us really well in some areas.
“The final scoreline feels a little odd in a way, but in any Premiership game you would take that every day of the week as a pretty convincing scoreline.
“We will be confident that we can move on our lineout and scrum from today, and some of the discipline.”
Exeter joined fellow English challengers Saracens in the last four, going one better than their previous best Champions Cup campaign four years ago, after tries by scrum-half Jack Maunder, flanker Jacques Vermeulen (two), wing Jack Nowell and lock Jonny Hill sunk Saints.
Northampton fielded 19-year-old Manny Iyogun at loosehead prop after injuries sidelined four other players in that position, and they trailed 14-10 at the break following captain Teimana Harrison’s try and a Dan Biggar conversion and penalty.
Iyogun impressively played 72 minutes, but despite centre Fraser Dingwall’s opportunist second-half touchdown, Northampton were undone as Exeter fly-half Joe Simmonds ticked things over through four conversions and a penalty before Gareth Steenson converted Vermeulen’s second try.
Saints now have two games left of their Premiership campaign, having fallen out of play-off contention, with Sale Sharks at home and Gloucester away completing the season for them.
Northampton rugby director Chris Boyd said: “I can’t fault the effort or the intent from the players.
“We tried hard, but you don’t win games of football from trying hard.
“Their points came too easily, and we had to work too hard to get ours.
“It was just those little accumulations of errors that seem to be blighting our game at the moment.”
And Boyd paid tribute to Iyogun, adding: “I thought it was a remarkable shift by Manny. He will sleep pretty well tonight, I would imagine.”
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