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Chiefs' power foils two-try Zebo to seal first European success

Exeter 31 Racing 92 27

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Exeter Chiefs players lift the 2020 Champions Cup trophy. Photo: Reuters

Exeter Chiefs players lift the 2020 Champions Cup trophy. Photo: Reuters

Exeter Chiefs players lift the 2020 Champions Cup trophy. Photo: Reuters

Exeter were crowned kings of European club rugby for the first time after this thrilling four-point Heineken Champions Cup final victory yesterday.

The Chiefs conquered Europe in only their tenth season as a top-flight team, ultimately flooring the French heavyweights through a combination of irresistible forward power and ruthless finishing.

But a gripping game saw the teams trade blow after blow, with eight touchdowns in total, before Exeter prevailed through scores by hooker Luke Cowan-Dickie, No 8 Sam Simmonds, prop Harry Williams and centre Henry Slade, with captain Joe Simmonds kicking four conversions and a last-gasp penalty, after prop Tomas Francis had been sin-binned.

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Exeter Chiefs' Henry Slade scores his side's fourth try. Photo: PA

Exeter Chiefs' Henry Slade scores his side's fourth try. Photo: PA

Exeter Chiefs' Henry Slade scores his side's fourth try. Photo: PA

 

Simon Zebo touched down twice for Racing, while wing Juan Imhoff and hooker Camille Chat also crossed, with Maxime Machenaud adding a penalty and conversion, and flyhalf Finn Russell one conversion. It means Exeter will complete a domestic and European double - a feat achieved by only three other English clubs - if they beat Wasps in next Saturday's Premiership title showdown. Devon's finest lapped up every glorious minute of this, even if a chunk of the second period saw them under prolonged pressure.

Exeter made one change following their semi-final victory over Toulouse, with flanker Jacques Vermeulen replacing Sam Skinner, while Racing showed three switches as wing Louis Dupichot, centre Henry Chavancy and lock Bernard Le Roux all started.

The final burst into life with an eighth-minute try for Exeter and in trademark style, too. They drove the Racing pack backwards from a short-range lineout and England international Cowan-Dickie touched down. Simmonds kicked the conversion and Exeter immediately returned to Racing's 22, only for the French club to enjoy a major let-off.

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Jack Nowell of Exeter Chiefs celebrates victory. Photo: Getty Images

Jack Nowell of Exeter Chiefs celebrates victory. Photo: Getty Images

Jack Nowell of Exeter Chiefs celebrates victory. Photo: Getty Images

 

Flyhalf Russell spilled possession behind his own line and knocked it forward as he tried to retrieve the ball, but Chiefs lock Jonny Hill could not apply downward pressure and Racing escaped after a marginal call by referee Nigel Owens and his television match official went in their favour.

Exeter, though, added a second try just two minutes later, again after their forwards established dominance, and Sam Simmonds claimed his eighth touchdown in this season's tournament with his brother, Joe, converting. Racing then hit back by scoring two tries in 11 minutes. Zebo claimed the first when he collected Russell's pinpoint floated pass, then Imhoff showcased his renowned finishing quality to add a second that Russell converted.

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Exeter needed to reassert themselves and, unsurprisingly, their forwards again came up trumps. The French side were once more powerless to stop drive after drive, and this time it was Williams who prospered, with Joe Simmonds' conversion making it 21-12 at half-time.

But Racing struck first in the second period, taking less than three minutes before Zebo arrowed over for another score, becoming only the fourth player to score two tries in a Heineken final.

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Racing 92's Simon Zebo in action with Exeter Chiefs' Luke Cowan-Dickie. Photo: Reuters

Racing 92's Simon Zebo in action with Exeter Chiefs' Luke Cowan-Dickie. Photo: Reuters

Racing 92's Simon Zebo in action with Exeter Chiefs' Luke Cowan-Dickie. Photo: Reuters

 

It was a wake-up call for Exeter, yet they replied rapidly after wing Jack Nowell intercepted Russell's ambitious pass 20 metres from his own line and found a supporting Slade, who scored and Joe Simmonds converted. Back came Racing with a close-range score by Chat - Machenaud converted. A Machenaud penalty made it a one-point game with 15 minutes left, then Francis was yellow-carded, Joe Simmonds struck his clinching penalty and Exeter prevailed.

Scorers - Exeter: Cowan-Dickie, S Simmonds, Williams, Slade tries; J Simmonds 4 cons, 1 pen. Racing 92: Zebo (2), Imhoff, Chat tries; Russell 1 con; Machenaud 1 pen, 1 con.

Exeter: Hogg; Nowell, Slade, Whitten (Devoto 59), O'Flaherty; J Simmonds (capt), Maunder (Hidalgo-Clyne 65); Hepburn (Moon 56), Cowan-Dickie (Yeandle 56), Williams (Francis 56), Gray, Hill, Ewers, Vermeulen (Kirsten 56), S Simmonds.

Racing 92: Zebo (Beale 65); Dupichot, Vakatawa (Klemenczak 76), Chavancy (capt), Imhoff; Russell, Iribaren (Machenaud 41); Ben Arous (Kolingar 51), Chat, Colombe (Oz 51), Le Roux, Bird, Lauret, Sanconnie, Claassen (Palu 76).

Referee: N Owens (Wales)


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