What Exeter really think of Leinster's proud European pedigree ahead of Saturday's quarter-final
Exeter director of rugby Rob Baxter is refusing to dwell on Leinster’s rich European pedigree ahead of Saturday’s Heineken Champions Cup quarter-final at Sandy Park. Baxter’s reigning champions meet a side who are appearing in the last-eight for the 16th time as they chase down a record fifth major title on the continental stage.
But Baxter insists history has only limited meaning as Exeter – who announced a £2.26million accounting loss this week – look to follow up on the Premiership and European double completed in 2019/20. “It’s a very significant challenge, but is it any bigger than last season?” Baxter said.
“You have got to get perspective and move on from the history of seven, eight, nine or ten years ago. Leinster were the first team we played in the Heineken Cup in 2012 and there was a fair bit of underestimation from them… they sneaked through 9-6 over in Ireland.
“Since then we have met a few times and they have come out on top, but we have moved on to a degree. I’m not saying we are meeting on a level playing field, but it’s far more level than to talk about past history too much.
“If we talked about history then Exeter would never be near the final of the Premiership or a European Cup. We have now won both, so it is about the here and now and the here and now is that we have an expectation to do well.”
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Exeter and Sale are the only Gallagher Premiership clubs to reach the Champions Cup quarter-finals, while five French sides are represented with four of them colliding in all-Top 14 ties. Bristol, Wasps and Gloucester all fell at the round of 16 stage, but Baxter denies the smaller contingent reflects poorly on the English top flight.
“This is only our third quarter-final so I know how hard it is to qualify. When you get to the last-eight of Europe, how many Premiership clubs should be there?” he said. “We have got two in the quarters – a quarter of the clubs. It’s not a bad showing in a bad year. It doesn’t feel that strange to me.
“There are reasons why you would like lots of English clubs there because it might mean you could go all the way to the final and never have to leave England. In the current climate, with the doubts on travelling and hotel staying and the difficulty in organising those things, that would be nice.”
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