Any fears that Exeter might suffer some big-match nerves when making their first-ever Champions Cup final took just eight minutes to dispel as the Chiefs opened the scoring against Racing in trademark fashion at Ashton Gate.

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Rob Baxter’s side have developed a reputation for being lethal metres out from the opposition line and it was no different in the opening exchanges in Bristol. 

Having absorbed some early Racing pressure, Exeter turned the screw with a penalty to the corner and the set-piece out of touch became the catalyst for Baxter’s pack to strike, thrower Luke Cowan-Dickie joining the maul and getting driven over for the opening score. 

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Rob Baxter’s thoughts before the Exeter vs Racing final

Further evidence that there were no first-final nerves soon followed, Exeter pouncing for their second try on 16 minutes when a quick tap penalty by Cowan-Dickie five metres our began a move that ended with Sam Simmonds diving over. 

Both early tries were converted for a 14-0 lead but Racing eventually settled and had the margin cut to two points by the 33rd-minute following tries from Simon Zebo and Juan Imhoff. 

Some minutes before that second Racing try, Baxter had told BT Sport that he was defensively concerned with what he was seeing. “Defence ultimately wins games,” he said. “If you defend for long enough and are tough enough you get the ball back and that gives us the opportunity to attack. I’d like us to move on a bit defensively from where we are now. 

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“We don’t want it too loose because that suits Racing more than us probably. That is why we need to tighten things up defensively and be a fair bit better defending than we are at the moment. Hopefully, we can grow into it but we have to get on with that now.”

While Baxter’s words of caution were followed by Racing’s second score which left it 14-12, Exeter hit back with Harry Williams scoring a converted try just before the break to leave the Chiefs leading 21-12 at the interval.

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