Belfast Telegraph

Home Sport Rugby

Exeter boss Baxter relishing Saracens showdown

Rob Baxter says he will relish his Exeter team taking on kings of Europe Saracens in next Saturday's Aviva Premiership final at Twickenham.

Exeter continued their remarkable rise towards the summit of English rugby by beating play-off opponents Wasps 34-23 at Sandy Park.

Despite only securing Premiership status in 2010, they are now 80 minutes away from possibly being crowned league champions as two penalty tries and touchdowns by centre Ian Whitten and flanker Dave Ewers saw them home.

"If someone said to me was there one team you would want to play in the final, you would have to say Saracens this season," Chiefs head coach Baxter said.

"They've been the stand-out the side, they finished top of the Premiership, they are the best team in Europe.

"If you are going to win the Premiership, let's go against a good side. Let's go against Saracens."

Exeter fly-half Gareth Steenson kicked four conversions and two penalties, while his opposite number Jimmy Gopperth booted 13 points, including conversions of tries from hooker Carlo Festuccia and scrum-half Dan Robson.

And it means that Exeter now stand between Saracens and them achieving the first domestic and European double by an English club since Wasps 12 years ago.

Saracens will start as red-hot favourites in defence of their Premiership crown - they beat Exeter 36-18 at Allianz Park eight weeks ago - yet the Chiefs are unlikely to show much respect for reputations.

Baxter added: "It feels very good. It was a hell of a game.

"Neither team really got away from each other for most of the game, but I think we showed enough qualities over the course of the 80 minutes to deserve the win.

"We have been challenging the players the last four or five weeks to say to them this is the time of the season where they have got to take hold of it, especially the senior players.

"The lads who played today have made a name for themselves. They are a little bit further up the ladder than they were before, and the club is a little bit further up the ladder.

"What we need to remember about this club is what gives us the backbone and the foundations we've got is that we had to spend a lot of time being tough and dealing with being second and not winning everything, and saying that one day we wanted to be a very successful rugby club.

"Today is not a flash in the pan. Today is a culmination of a lot of people's hard work over a long time, day by day.

"This won't feel like a shock to the players. It will feel like the next step they wanted to take. The final is a week away. We've won a big game today. let's take a couple of hours to enjoy what we've done."

The only possible issue for Exeter might be a first-half incident when Exeter scrum-half Will Chudley's boot looked to make contact with Wasps and England lock Joe Launchbury's head, which could attract citing commissioner attention.

Wasps made semi-final exits in Europe and the Premiership this season, but rugby director Dai Young knows they have progressed considerably.

"We knew they (Exeter) are a good team, and they proved that today," Young said. "They were a little bit more clinical when they had opportunities.

"No complaints. The two teams in the final have been the first and second-best teams throughout the season. It's a great final.

"Where we've come from after last season - there is lots to improve, without a shadow of doubt - I am really proud of the players. We want to be in the latter stages of competitions.

"You have only got to look at Saracens in Europe. Sometimes, you have got to keep knocking that door, and it might be a year or two before it opens, but in the end it will open.

"We have got to make sure we stick in there."


From Belfast Telegraph