5 Things behind Exeter Chiefs’ remarkable rise to the top

Exeter Chiefs v Wasps – Aviva Premiership – Final – Twickenham
Exeter Chiefs v Wasps – Aviva Premiership – Final – Twickenham - (Copyright PA Archive)
14:35pm, Mon 12 Oct 2020
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Exeter will contest their first European final on Saturday when they meet French club Racing 92 in a Heineken Champions Cup showdown at Ashton Gate.

It continues the Chiefs’ remarkable journey that saw them attain Premiership status just 10 years ago.

Here, the PA news agency assesses some of the reasons for their success.

Rob Baxter

Exeter Chiefs v Sale Sharks – Gallagher Premiership – Sandy Park - (Copyright PA Archive)

Director of rugby Baxter has proved a major factor behind Exeter’s success story. The 49-year-old Devonian made close to 300 appearances for the club as a back-row forward during a 14-year playing stint there, and was captain for several seasons. He was appointed head coach in May 2009, and just 12 months later Exeter achieved promotion from the Championship to the Premiership. An outstanding leader and man-manager, Baxter saw the Chiefs crowned Premiership champions three years ago, and they are now two wins away from a domestic and European double achieved by only three other English clubs – Leicester, Wasps and Saracens.

Culture

Exeter Chiefs agree new contracts with 30 players - (Copyright PA Wire)

Exeter’s day-to-day operations are the envy of many, and at the heart of it is an unbreakable bond between players, coaches and staff. It is an organisation that thrives on being a focal part of its community, with Chiefs’ move to Sandy Park from the County Ground in 2006 also seeing a conference centre incorporated, while a £25million, 250-room hotel is under construction. It is a remarkable product built around sustained success on the field, while generating a thriving business off it, and the buy-in from all concerned is pivotal to the Chiefs’ success.

Tony Rowe

Webb Ellis Cup Tour July 10 day 30 - (Copyright PA Media)

Businessman Rowe has been a driving force at the Exeter club for more than 25 years. A former powerboat racing champion, he has helped keep Exeter in the fast lane of English and European rugby. Chairman and chief executive of the South West Communications Group, he fills identical roles with the Chiefs and has applied his heralded business acumen to Exeter’s rise from the lower leagues to Premiership summit. Now in his early 70s, Rowe’s enthusiasm and passion for the club remain at their peak, and there will be no prouder figure than him when Exeter contest Premiership and European finals during the next 12 days.

Loyalty

Professional sport can sometimes see loyalty go out of the window, but not in Exeter’s case. It is underlined perhaps no better than by 36-year-old Gareth Steenson, who kicked 24 points in Chiefs’ promotion-clinching victory over Bristol in 2010, and almost 300 appearances later is set to be part of the match-day 23 on Champions Cup final day in his final season at Sandy Park. The Exeter squad is littered with long-serving performers, one-club men who are the heartbeat of everything that has been achieved during a relentles drive to the top.

Growing your own

Exeter’s reputation for producing rugby talent is emphasised by their academy production line. Current England internationals Jack Nowell, Henry Slade and Luke Cowan-Dickie are among those to emerge via the Chiefs’ development system, and it has not stopped there, with players like the Simmonds brothers – first team captain Joe and England back-row forward Sam – Jack Maunder and Stu Townsend continuing the trend, while the most recent academy group to gain first XV graduation features Marcus Street, Sam Maunder and Richard Capstick. Star recruits such as Stuart Hogg and Jonny Gray have proved significant arrivals, but those kind of signings are underpinned by the club’s unshakeable playing foundation.

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