Exeter win first-ever European trophy
Match report sponsored by Northcott Beaton
Exeter Chiefs win the European Champions Cup for the first-ever time, ten years after promotion into the Premiership.
The Chiefs beat French giants Racing 92, in one of the tightest and most nail-biting finals in Champions Cup history, to crown themselves kings of Europe.
It’s been an unbelievable season for Exeter – who finished their European campaign unbeaten and scored more points than any other team in this season’s competition.
And what a night it was for the Simmonds brothers, who both came through the club's illustrious academy. Star of the match Joe Simmonds, 23, became the youngest ever captain to guide his team to European glory. His older brother, Sam, was presented the prestigious European player of the year accolade shortly after the final whistle.
However, for the time being, the celebrations will be put on hold - the focus swiftly turns to the Gallagher Premiership final next weekend.
Exeter couldn’t have wished for a better start to their historic European final – they dominated the opening 15 minutes and capitalised with two tries.
Luke Cowan-Dickie and Sam Simmonds settled early nerves as they both powered over the line from short range – Joe Simmonds slotted both conversions to give his side a convincing lead.
It looked like it was going to be a one-sided final – but the French giants, who made a few uncharacteristic mistakes early on, grew into the contest and clawed their way back into contention.
Racing’s Simon Zebbo reduced the deficit after dotting the ball down clinically in the corner before Imoff superbly cut open Exeter’s defence with fancy footwork to touch down under the posts. Finn Russell missed the first conversion, but he made no mistake with the second.
It was Exeter who had the final say before half time, though. Again, the score was created by the Exeter forwards. Harry Williams crashed over from 2 metres out following continuous carries – Simmonds with the extras. Exeter led 21-12 at half-time.
The tide turned in the second half - a disastrous start to the half gave Racing the chance bite back within two minutes. Henry Slade gave away a penalty, for a high tackle, just 10 metres out. Opting for touch, Racing eventually worked the ball out wide to score in the corner. Russell failed to add the extras.
However, Racing gifted Exeter a try immediately after scoring. Jack Nowell intercepted a looping pass just ten metres out from Racing’s try line, the Cornishmen then offloaded to Slade who dotted the ball down with no defenders in sight.
All of a sudden, just one point separated the two sides. Camille Chat peeled away from the back of a maul to score another try for the French team before they kicked a penalty.
The game was balanced on a knife edge heading into the final 10 minutes – but when Exeter’s Thomas Francis received a yellow card, Racing looked favourites to steal the victory. However, as it has been all season, Exeter’s defence was immense and the shut the door in Racing’s face.
Exeter just about did enough to keep Racing at bay - despite having a player in the sin bin – to secure their first-ever European Champions Cup win. A night at Ashton Gate that will live long in the memory.
Full time: Exeter 31 Racing 27
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