This morning the Exeter Chiefs and a sizeable West Country support have boarded a plane to Paris, where they’ll play a European quarter-final against Stade Francais. The club really has spread its wings and taken flight in this, only the Chiefs’ second ever season in European rugby. They have always preferred to remain beneath the radar but that has become increasingly difficult.
In the last two weekends the Chiefs have won at Gloucester and against London Irish at Sandy Park to consolidate their place amongst the elite of the Aviva Premiership table. They’re within reach of the play-off semi-finals and, unlike their more celebrated West Country neighbours, are certain to finish in the all-important top six. Now, head coach Rob Baxter pits his side against last season’s Challenge Cup finalists, Stade Francais, with the possibility of seizing another prized scalp to add to the Chiefs’ growing collection.
How have they achieved such a rapid ascent and without a roll-call of big names in the squad? Continuity, humility, financial stability, development plans and a strong support, provide the answer. The Chief executive, Tony Rowe, has been there 20 years; head coach, Rob Baxter has been there just as long: 14 years as a player and captain before taking charge. They have some former Royal Marines as fitness coaches, who help build a team and fighting spirit. They plan to expand the ground capacity to beyond 20,000 and to build a new training base across the M5.
The Exeter Chiefs quietly intend to become the best club in Europe. A few years ago that would have sounded fanciful but now, given their unexpected rise, it’s an ambition deserving of respect. Tomorrow night, with Europe watching, they take another giant bite out of that apple.
Argentine winger Gonzalo Camacho won the cup with Harlequins last season, scoring the winning try against Stade Francais. He joined Exeter after the world cup last year and scored his first try of the season in the 18-11 victory over London Irish on Saturday. He's been speaking to Seth Conway about the rise of the Chiefs.
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