Words By Max Kilham
Director of Rugby Rob Baxter expressed his ‘relief’ as his Exeter Chiefs beat Wasps 19-13 to lift the Gallagher Premiership Trophy for the second time in five years to complete the double.
A converted try from Henry Slade, along with four penalty kicks from Joe Simmonds saw the Chiefs overcome a resilient Wasps side, who were coming off the back of a tough week in regards to COVID-19.
Considering Exeter were only promoted to the first division in 2010, their rapid rise has been remarkable.
However, it may not be as surprising as it seems. The South-West is rugby mad. It is one of the few sections of the country where rugby may be more popular than football. Considering this, maybe the surprise at their ascent is unwarranted.
The man who has masterminded this transformation is none other than Rob Baxter.
During his playing days, Baxter played for the chiefs for 14 years at lock. For 10 of those years he was club captain.
In March 2009 he returned to the club and led them to promotion the following season.
Since that moment, the Chiefs have been consistent challengers for major honours. They have made all of the last five Premiership Rugby finals and despite previous heart-breaking losses at the final hurdle, their two titles in five years is an admirable statistic.
On Saturday, it looked at times as if Wasps would provide a serious challenge to Exeter’s dominance this season. However, the Chiefs proved once again their superior ability this season.
As per BBC Sport, Baxter expressed his relief at full-time:
“The biggest emotion right here and now is one of relief. I know that sounds strange when you win a competition, but I think last week plays a huge part in that.
“What I’m really pleased with more than anything else is that we’ve got a group of players down there now, we’ve got both trophies in the changing rooms because we need them both there because we can now celebrate last week as well as this week.
“Whatever would have happened today, if we hadn’t have won it would have certainly taken the shine off that a little bit.
“What this allows us to do is to genuinely stop and pause and look back a little bit over a very good season over two very good competitions and allow us to actually now spend some time reflecting on how important the work these guys have done has been to the club.
“I’m just relieved that they’re capable now of really enjoying what they’ve achieved without any shine being taken off.”
Just last year, the Chiefs had narrowly lost to Saracens in the final, making it their third loss in a row against Saracens in a Premiership final. Now they have their recompense.
In a season blighted by the COVID-19 pandemic, it has been tough on all associated with rugby across the country. Months of uncertainty has far from helped any of the teams across this league season. Exeter however, have found a way to burst through this period of angst and set themselves up for further success in the near future.
Never underestimate the power winning has on future endeavours.
Sides that consistently reach the latter stages of their respective tournaments reflect well-run organisations that can maintain their status at the top for extended periods. Take, for example, The New England Patriots or the San Antonio Spurs.
This Chiefs team is now set up for sustained future success in the near future. With Saracens, their greatest rival in recent memory, being relegated to the second division are a hefty points deduction, future triumphs seem almost certain.
As for Wasps, they can hold their heads high despite their second loss to Exeter in a Premiership final in four years.
Wasps head coach Lee Blackett was understandably disappointed at the outcome. As per Sky Sports he had this to say:
“It’s pretty gutting.
“It’s a tough one because we’re gutted but at the same time we’re proud of the game.
“Things didn’t go our way at times, but our character and fight were there, especially against a team who we know are so good close to the line.
“I’m really proud of our character and right to defend our line and not allow them over. All our fight and character gave us an opportunity with a couple of minutes to go but, unfortunately, we didn’t take it.”
Wasps were arguably the most dominant English team during the ‘noughties’, winning 4 Premiership Championships, including three in a row between 2003 and 2005 and 2 Heineken (European) Cups. This result will be a bitter pill to swallow, but things are pointing to a return to former success.
Meanwhile, the future is bright for the Chiefs. It’s hard to see who will stand in their way in both the Premiership and across Europe over the next few years. Their bogey team, Saracens, will undoubtedly be back, but it remains to be seen if anyone else can topple the Devonians from their perch.