Exeter Chiefs believe they can make Europe’s finest look second best

first_imgShare on LinkedIn Read more Nick Tompkins’ hat-trick leads Saracens past Gloucester and into final Even the frustrated Boyd, though, stopped short of entirely dismissing the Chiefs before their fourth successive Twickenham final. His personal view – “I suspect most people will think Saracens will win but I certainly wouldn’t write Exeter off” – may have involved some diplomacy but also reflected the reality that Saracens are not the only ones to have improved since last May.If stopping Exeter is so simple, how come they finished top of the regular season table by eight points and scored 12 more tries than their closest rivals? If they are so crushingly dull and one-dimensional, how to explain Tom O’Flaherty’s sensational weaving score from inside his own half on Saturday? Do not underestimate, either, how badly the Chiefs want this one, having failed to give a proper account of themselves last time.West Country positivity does not end there. Nick Tompkins is a fine player who collected a hat-trick in the 44-19 win against Gloucester, but the champions will still miss their indomitable rock and leader Brad Barritt assuming the latter misses out with a hamstring injury. Neither is Mako Vunipola involved. Exeter, meanwhile, have won the second halves of their two most recent games by a collective margin of 47-0; this is a fit squad that does not wilt late on. Facebook Twitter Pinterest Read more Share on Pinterest Share on Twitter Support The Guardian Sportblog “We probably got a bit lost in the first 10 minutes last year,” Baxter said. “This time we’ll talk about making sure that as well as having the heat and the fight in terms of how we play we are cool and composed enough to get up, talk to each other and get properly positioned.”Much will also depend on Exeter’s set piece, the kicking game of their half-backs, Nic White and Joe Simmonds, and the Chiefs’ ability to get enough ball to Jack Nowell, their England wing. Nowell says he and his teammates have been desperate all year to atone for the worst disappointment he, personally, has ever experienced. “We’ve been mentioning the hurt we felt last year. Looking around the changing room and seeing the boys upset and crying, I sat there and realised the year ahead was going to be a different one. We haven’t worked so hard to put ourselves in this position to go and lose it again.”Nowell is also honest enough to admit Exeter’s frustrating European campaign this season is an extra incentive. “We felt we let ourselves down in the Champions Cup this year. They are currently the best in England, the best in Europe. As a team that’s where we want to be and where we are trying to drive ourselves to.”Whether all this translates into a festival of open, flowing rugby must be highly debatable; Boyd is among those who feel the Premiership duopoly of Exeter and Saracens – the two clubs have between them featured in eight of the last 10 Premiership finals – needs curtailing for the sake of English rugby in general. “It’s important the Northamptons, Gloucesters and Bristols and others who play with a little more optimism find a way to get closer to Exeter and Saracens. You can play the power game domestically but there’s only one or two teams who can play that style and be successful.” Perhaps, although, as with a triumphant Somerset at Lord’s on Saturday, Exeter are not heading up to the big smoke simply for a day out on the cider. “What I want us to do is go and put our best foot forwards,” Baxter said. “This Exeter team is better than the Exeter teams that have done quite well in the last few years so hopefully that’ll be enough.” Saracens’ sternest test may yet lie ahead of them. Topics Exeter into final after Tom O’Flaherty’s solo try lights up win over Northampton Share on Messengercenter_img Share via Email Share on Facebook Premiership Exeter Saracens Rugby union Reuse this content features Nick Tompkins has received plenty of praise this summer. Photograph: David Rogers/Getty Images The Breakdown: sign up and get our weekly rugby union email. It is easy to see why so many people think this year’s Premiership trophy is destined to remain in north London. Saracens, the holders, are already champions of Europe, are oozing class and were comfortably too good for Exeter in last year’s final. Even when they embark on three-day benders before big games they emerge victorious.There is also the recurring question of whether Exeter’s relentless power game is quite as irresistible when it slams into an impenetrable defensive wall and the Chiefs’ primary instrument of control is blunted.Northampton’s head coach, Chris Boyd, despite having seen his side trounced in Devon for the second successive weekend, was forthright on the subject after his side’s 42-12 semi-final defeat on Saturday, suggesting the hosts would ultimately have to find an alternative method. “Without speaking out of school that’ll be the challenge for Exeter,” Boyd said. “If they don’t get power parity against sides, what does their game look like?” … we have a small favour to ask. More people are reading and supporting The Guardian’s independent, investigative journalism than ever before. And unlike many new organisations, we have chosen an approach that allows us to keep our journalism accessible to all, regardless of where they live or what they can afford. But we need your ongoing support to keep working as we do.The Guardian will engage with the most critical issues of our time – from the escalating climate catastrophe to widespread inequality to the influence of big tech on our lives. At a time when factual information is a necessity, we believe that each of us, around the world, deserves access to accurate reporting with integrity at its heart.Our editorial independence means we set our own agenda and voice our own opinions. Guardian journalism is free from commercial and political bias and not influenced by billionaire owners or shareholders. This means we can give a voice to those less heard, explore where others turn away, and rigorously challenge those in power.We need your support to keep delivering quality journalism, to maintain our openness and to protect our precious independence. Every reader contribution, big or small, is so valuable. Support The Guardian from as little as $1 – and it only takes a minute. Thank you. Share on WhatsApp Since you’re here… Exeter’s director of rugby, Rob Baxter, is also conscious of how Saracens were able to take a 12-3 first-quarter lead last year they were never going to relinquish. “It doesn’t take a genius to see some of the key battles,” Baxter said, highlighting Saracens’ excellence at reclaiming the ball in the air, exiting their own half efficiently and ruthlessly finishing their chances. Both the early tries in the final last season were a consequence of avoidable defensive misreads by Exeter which were promptly exploited.last_img