Wednesday 16 October 2019

Baxter hails his 'improving' Chiefs as they set up Sarries showdown

Rob Baxter. Photo: Simon Galloway/PA Wire
Rob Baxter. Photo: Simon Galloway/PA Wire

Nigel Whittaker

Exeter boss Rob Baxter is ready to embrace the challenge of facing Saracens next Saturday - and potentially thwarting a European and domestic double bid.

The Chiefs reached a fourth successive Premiership final after beating play-off rivals Northampton 42-12 at Sandy Park and they now face title holders Saracens at Twickenham next Saturday.

It is the third time in four years the two clubs will contest English rugby's biggest domestic prize, and a repeat of last season's final.

Saracens, who defeated Gloucester 44-19 in their semi-final, have already won the Champions Cup, and they have been installed as favourites to complete the double.

"We have come through some tough games and some tough experiences this season, and we should be a better team just based on that alone," Exeter rugby director Baxter said.

"Obviously, we will have to have a good week and play well on the day, but we are an improving side. It doesn't take a genius to see some of the key battles next week.

"There are some levels of improvement there for us, but they are levels of improvement we know we can make. It feels great to be in a final, but it doesn't feel amazing.

"It would feel amazing to win it because that's something we have only experienced once. It is only a big day if we win it."

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A week after defeating the Saints 40-21 on the final day of regular season action, Exeter again powered to victory following a tight opening 40 minutes.

Tries by prop Harry Williams and fly-half Joe Simmonds gave Exeter a flying start, but the Saints responded before the break with a penalty try and full-back Ahsee Tuala's touchdown.

Exeter, though, pulled away during the third quarter as lock Dave Dennis and wing Tom O'Flaherty added further scores. Sub Sam Simmonds then claimed a late score, as did centre Sam Hill, with Simmonds' brother Joe converting all six tries for a 17-point haul.

The Chiefs were champions in 2017, beating Wasps after extra-time, but their two previous showdowns with Saracens ended in defeat.

Northampton rugby director Chris Boyd said: "We needed to be disciplined and make less mistakes, and we didn't really achieve that. That was disappointing.

"We had to defend three sets of 20 phases in the first 20 minutes. How much juice that took out of us, who knows? That's what Exeter do.

"We knew we had to contest physically, and even with fresh legs we weren't able to counteract the power-game Exeter play.

"It's a 'B' season for us. Now, the goal is to keep building and moving north (up the table)."

Irish Independent

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