Rob Baxter aiming for a vintage performance as Exeter aim to savor victory in Bordeaux

Rob Baxter aiming for a vintage performance as Exeter aim to savor victory in Bordeaux

Rob Baxter aiming for a vintage performance as Exeter aim to savor victory in Bordeaux

Rob Baxter admits Exeter will need to do “very well” when they face Heineken Champions Cup holders La Rochelle in this season’s semi-finals.

But Exeter arrive at Bordeaux’s 42,000-seat Mahmut Atlantique Stadium on Sunday determined to underline their rich European pedigree.

The 2020 champions are England’s sole survivors, having won five of their six matches in Europe this season, including a thrilling round of 16 success against French champions Montpellier.


Exeter players celebrate after winning the Heineken Champions Cup in 2020 (David Davies/PA)

And they got there despite patchy form at home which undermined their Gallagher Premiership play-off bid as the Chiefs lost behind confirmed semi-finalists Saracens, Sale, Leicester and Northampton.

Exeter beat La Rochelle home and away during their 2019-20 European Cup winning season, but the semi-final represents the Chiefs’ best European run since.

Rochelle, by contrast, lifted the trophy last season and had finished runners-up 12 months earlier, confirming their status as heavy favorites this weekend.

“They are a good team and we will need to do very well and be extremely resilient,” said Exeter director of rugby Baxter.

“They’re going to fire shots, and we just have to get up and get on with things and not get hurt by anything that happens. That consistent level of intensity for 80 minutes is always key in big games.

“We are going to turn the tables a lot, which is quite a challenge for us and we should savor and try to enjoy ourselves.

“We have a pretty good record against French teams, and we need to back up a bit and get on with things. We have good firepower in the team.

“We went to La Rochelle and won in our year where we won the cup and we won in Castres this season. The chances in France are fantastic: the players love them, they are incredible experiences.

“I think you thrive on the atmosphere or not. Every game has an ebb and flow around it, and sometimes you have to stay there for a long time before you get the benefits of the scores.

Sunday’s fixture could be the last European game in Exeter colors for players like brothers Joe and Sam Simmonds, who move to France next season, England winger Jack Nowell – a major target for La Rochelle – and retired Scottish star Stuart Hogg.

So the lure of a possible European Cup final fixture with Leinster or Toulouse in Dublin on 20 May cannot be underestimated for numerous reasons.

Baxter added: “We have a collection of very good players. There is a lot of international quality in our team.

“The team we take over has a lot of caps, a lot of players who have won big games.

“It’s a great match for the club. It seems like a very close group who are working very hard to make this game a success.

“That’s the key, that’s how you look after each other whether you stay or go, and we seem to have that kind of vibe around the place right now.

“They will come to us and there will be times when we have to hold on, stick together and keep our discipline, keep our work pace and not catch our breath.

“Stay in the fight when it’s their time, and then take yours when it’s your time. There is no way to dress it.

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