Exeter Chiefs

Exeter Chiefs Aviva Photo call

The Exeter Chiefs are relatively new to the top flight of Rugby, having only been promoted to the Aviva Premiership two years ago for the first time in the clubs history.

But in that time the Chiefs have firmly cemented their place as one of the country’s top rugby union sides, and at the time of writing sit 6th in the table, just five points off Harlequins at the summit of the table.

The Devonshire based side began life back in 1872, with their first notable matches coming 30 years later with games against the All Blacks at the old County Ground, whilst three years later Chiefs lock and England captain Thomas Kelly led the national side to a 19-0 victory against France on the continent. Kelly would go down in Exeter folklore as their only former player to captain England.

It was only more recently that Exeter came into the rugby union limelight in England, where from 2007 a big push was encouraged to help promote the team to the then Guinness Premiership. The recruitment of seasoned veterans of the game saw the Chiefs reach the final of the EDF Energy Trophy in four of the seven seasons from 2002 to 2008, but finished runners-up on each occasion.

But it was 2010 that the side put together its strongest league showing, and having reached the play-off final, a resounding 29-10 victory against Bristol at the Memorial Stadium saw the club catapulted to the height of the English game as they claimed promotion.

And although the trophy cabinet only holds that lonesome Championship winner’s trophy, the form showed by the fledgling side over the following two seasons would suggest that further trophies may be in the offing.

Having finished 5th in their debut season in the Premiership, the Chiefs are now looking to add to a firm league grounding with progression in the Heineken Cup. And although Exeter sit bottom of their respective Heineken Cup qualifying group, they are on a great run of form having been unbeaten in the last five.

Star fly-half Gareth Steenson told the BBC that the next cup fixture, against the Scarlet’s, could be a season defining game.

Steenson said:  “If we don’t win this weekend then effectively our chances of progressing are gone,” he told BBC South West.

“We’ve got that monkey off our back with the first away win in the Premiership and we’re chasing hard to get our first win in the Heineken Cup.”

 

The Chiefs only narrowly lost in the opening round of fixtures of the cup against Leinster, but were heavily defeated against the star-studded Clermont Auvergne.

“The trip to Dublin was fantastic and to come away with such a close result was a little disappointing,” Steenson continued.

“The result against Clermont didn’t really reflect how we performed that evening; we took a lot of positives from that game.”

The Chiefs travel to Llanelli to face the Scarlet’s before welcoming them back to Sandy Park seven days later.

Steenson continued: “We’ve got to go out and get a result this week which gives us something to play for the following week.

“We’re not putting pressure on ourselves. It’s still only our third game in the Heineken Cup, so it’s another learn experience for us and a chance to play a Welsh outfit.”

Chief’s boss Rob Baxter told BBC South West that he believes his side can come out on top of this season defining 80 minutes.

“We’re in good shape. We recently targeted that first away win in the Premiership against London Irish – which we got – we then targeted backing that up with a similar result against Wasps – which we did last weekend – and now the target for us is to get that first win in the Heineken Cup.

“The Scarlet’s, we know, are a good side with lots of threats right across their team.

“I think what we’ve learnt as a side in Europe is that if you play with intensity, you play together and you follow a game plan we are a good side and can be very competitive against some of the best sides in Europe.

“At the same time, though, what we have also learnt is that if you slip off that intensity you will get hurt very quickly – and that is some of the toughest lessons you can learn within the game.

“We never entered the Heineken Cup saying it is all about where we end up in the table. What we said was that we will give it a real go in every game and that I want to make sure the players experience everything that can from the Heineken Cup.”

Regardless the outcome of Saturdays game, it must be said that the Exeter Chiefs are well on their way to becoming a force in England, and across Europe. It may not come this season, but you would expect that the famed Tomahawk fans at the modern Sandy Park Stadium could be forgiven for expecting silverware within the next five years.

 

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