Exeter boss Rob Baxter insists his rags-to-riches heroes have earned the right to ‘home’ advantage in next month’s Champions Cup final.
Organisers sparked controversy by ruling Racing 92 should travel from Paris to Bristol’s Ashton Gate for the October 17 showpiece – whilst Chiefs, 28-18 winners over Toulouse, have only a short ride up the M5.
“Final at home? Very fair,” one French supporter tweeted. “History of favouring the English,” added another.
The final had been assigned to Marseille before the Covid pandemic and associated restrictions forced a rethink.
But Baxter says given the decision to abandon the ‘designated stadium’ template in this troubled year, it is only right the game is played in England.
“Going up the road for the final is the reward you get for working hard in the pool,” he said. “That’s how it works. You go after it in the pool to come out of it as one of the top seeds.
“We’ve ended up being the top seed in the competition so the game should be in this country. We’ve earned that benefit. If Racing were the higher seed it would be in France.”
Of the four previous finals staged across the Channel three have brought wins for English sides over French opposition. So home advantage guarantees nothing – particularly this time as the stadium will be empty.
But the way Exeter came from behind to beat Toulouse without fan support suggests they are sufficiently self-driven to give Finn Russell’s all-stars a run for their money.
“We’re really excited,” said Joe Simmonds, the young captain who scored the last of Chiefs’ four tries at Sandy Park.
“We’ve never been in this position before and it’s a massive opportunity for not just the players but the club and Exeter as a city as well.”
Simmonds was not born when Toulouse won the first of their four European Cups. The last of those titles came with Exeter still a junior team.
They have made up for lost time alright, to the point that they are three wins from a Premiership and European double.
“We want to win every trophy we’re in,” said Simmonds, whose brother Sam was also on the scoresheet. “That’s the great thing about this team. We’re so passionate to win trophies.
“We’ve had a few hurts in the last couple of years, losing finals, but we showed with the performance out there that everyone’s hungry.”
Theirs might be seen as a Cinderella story but Baxter insists it is as much a tale of perseverance.
“The important thing is not to go away,” he said. “It’s a little bit like this club’s history. We dropped down divisions and spent ages in the Championship.
“We slowly built and we got there. The decisions to keep going and not go away are the most important.”
EXETER – Tries: Williams 2, S Simmonds, J Simmonds. Cons: J Simmonds 4.
TOULOUSE – Tries: Placine, Lebel. Con: Ramos. Pens: Ramos 2.