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Exeter Chiefs and Racing 92 will go in search of a first Heineken Champions Cup crown on Saturday afternoon when they clash at Ashton Gate in this season’s showpiece final.
The two sides have displayed impressive form en-route to the final, with both sides topping their respective pools. Exeter then breezed past Northampton Saints in the quarter-finals before overcoming Toulouse 28-18 in a tense final four game.
Racing 92 meanwhile were made to work hard for their 36-27 win over ASM Clermont Auvergne in the last eight before earning a hard-fought victory over reigning champions Saracens in the semi-final, with EPCR European Player of the Year nominees Finn Russell and Virimi Vakatawa combining to reach Juan Imhoff for the crucial try.
You can watch Saturday’s Heineken Champions Cup final on BT Sport, beIN SPORTS, Channel 4, Virgin Media and FR2 from 16:45 (UK and Irish time).
Exeter Chiefs: 1st, Pool 2, 27 points.
Racing 92: 1st, Pool 4, 23 points.
Knockout stage results
Exeter Chiefs: QF – Exeter Chiefs 38 Northampton Saints 15, SF – Exeter Chiefs 28 Toulouse 18
Racing 92: QF – ASM Clermont Auvergne 27 Racing 92 36, SF – Racing 92 19 Saracens 15
First meeting in European competition.
Leading 2019/20 points-scorers
Exeter Chiefs: Joe Simmonds (84), Sam Simmonds (35), Jacques Vermeulen (15)
Racing 92: Teddy Iribaren (57), Maxime Machenaud (43), Teddy Thomas (30)
- EPCR European Player of the Year nominees Stuart Hogg and Sam Simmonds both start for Exeter, who will be captained by Joe Simmonds from fly-half. Alec Hepburn, Luke Cowan-Dickie and Harry Williams make up the Chiefs’ front row, with Dave Ewers and Jacques Vermeulen also starting in the pack. Henry Slade and Ian Whitten form a strong centre partnership, while Gareth Steenson will start the final game of his illustrious career on the bench.
- Henri Chavancy captains Racing from inside centre, and is joined by two EPCR Player of the Year nominees in Finn Russell and Virimi Vakatawa to form a formidable back line. Louis Dupichot, Simon Zebo and Juan Imhoff also start, with Fabien Sanconnie, Antonie Claassen and Wenceslas Lauret as the back-row.
To mark a massive week in the rugby calendar, we've got another belting Champions Rugby Show Special 🎧@racing92's star fly-half @finn_russell discusses with @James_Burridge what a first #HeinekenChampionsCup title would mean to the club 🏆https://t.co/QEpANbD6hh
— Heineken Champions Cup (@ChampionsCup) October 14, 2020
- Rob Baxter (Exeter Chiefs): “It’s the biggest game in the club’s history. We’ve had to win big games to get here and every time you get to one of these big games, I suppose it’s the biggest one you will ever play. We’ve seen our players grow in recent weeks, especially in the big games. The match against Toulouse was very important. We put together a game plan and stuck to it despite weathering a lot of pressure. The opposition will have momentum at some point, but we’ll need to weather it and fight back, so I suppose you need that experience and it will help us I think.”
- Ollie Devoto (Exeter Chiefs): We’ve got a special group of players here. A win would be very, very special for this group. “There are coaches here who will look at the opposition. They’ve got quite a few [dangerous players]; they’re quite blessed in that department. If you overcomplicate stuff, it leads to trouble. Where we’ve done well in the past is when we’ve kept it simple.”
- Finn Russell (Racing 92): “They’re a world-class team obviously and for me they’re the best in the Premiership, the best in England just now. It’s not going to be an easy challenge to try and break them down this weekend. It’s the simple things – if we stick to our structure and our game plan, then we’ve got great attacking threats, as we’ve shown in the past. They’ve got a great defence and there’ll be a few things there I’ll be looking to pick out maybe, with that analysis you do in the week building up.”
- The 25th anniversary final will be the eighth Anglo-French decider with Premiership clubs currently leading the TOP 14 by five wins to two, and Ashton Gate will be the 13th stadium to host the showpiece match.
- There will be a new name engraved on the Heineken Champions Cup trophy following Saturday’s match. Exeter are appearing in their first decider and Racing their third in the space of five seasons, and the victor will become the 12th club to win European club rugby’s blue-riband tournament.
- Maxime Machenaud is Racing’s overall leading scorer in the Heineken Champions Cup with 214 points from his 45 appearances, while veteran, Gareth Steenson, has amassed 255 points for Exeter from 37 appearances to date.
- Racing’s Head Coach, Laurent Travers, a winner with Brive in 1997, could emulate Leinster Rugby’s Leo Cullen who is currently the only person to win the tournament as a Head Coach and as a player. Chiefs Head Coach, Ali Hepher, who is Rob Baxter’s de facto No 2, could also lay claim to the accolade as he was a tournament winner with Northampton Saints in 2000.
- Racing’s Virimi Vakatawa leads the tournament statistics categories in clean breaks (16) and defenders beaten (48).
- Bristol will become the 10th city after Cardiff, Bordeaux, Dublin, London, Paris, Edinburgh, Lyon, Bilbao and Newcastle to stage a tournament final.
- Exeter’s Dave Ewers has made the most tackles in the tournament this season with 118.
- Exeter’s Sam and Joe Simmonds are in line to become the eighth set of brothers to win the title. The seven to date are: Delon and Stefon Armitage (RC Toulon), Philippe and Olivier Carbonneau (Toulouse/Brive), Jan and Bryn Cunningham (Ulster), Denis and John Fogarty (Munster/Leinster), Rob and Dave Kearney (Leinster), Martin and Will Johnson (Leicester) and Billy and Mako Vunipola (Saracens).
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Exeter Chiefs secure first Heineken Champions Cup after dramatic success over Racing 92
Exeter Chiefs lifted the Heineken Champions Cup for the first time after a breathtaking final at Ashton Gate, holding off Racing 92 to come out 31-27 victors in an all-time European classic.
The English side led throughout but that doesn’t tell the full story of a Heineken Champions Cup final that saw eight tries shared by the two sides, and a thrilling final ten minutes as Exeter clung on with Sam Hidalgo-Clyne coming up with a crucial turnover late on.
It was the eventual winners who made the stronger start after Teddy Iribaren missed touch early and that gave Exeter a scrum which was soon rewarded with a penalty by referee Nigel Owens.
Joe Simmonds would kick into touch and the line-out led to a driving maul that powered towards and over the line with Luke Cowan-Dickie under the pile of Exeter men.
Exeter continued to dominate and had a second try on 17 minutes when penalty after penalty inside their own 22 put Racing on the back foot and they couldn’t stop Sam Simmonds from bursting over from close range.
It's a dream start and it's just vintage @ExeterChiefs 🙌
— Rugby on BT Sport (@btsportrugby) October 17, 2020
But Racing would respond as with penalty advantage, Finn Russell forced a sumptuous pass from the centre to wide right, finding Simon Zebo who dived over in the corner.
Russell couldn’t convert but would manage to make no mistake on Racing’s second score on 33 minutes.
It was Juan Imhoff who slipped past Jonny Hill from the edge of the ruck and found enough space to go clear and score at the posts.
But after a deflected Finn Russell kick, Exeter grabbed a pivotal try just before the break.
It came from the resulting line-out, they worked phase after phase towards the posts before Harry Williams managed to power over.
Show and GONE 💨
— Rugby on BT Sport (@btsportrugby) October 17, 2020
A truly remarkable second half started with Russell and Zebo combining yet again as the latter managed to dart around the Exeter defenders and have enough to strength to wriggle his way over the line for the second time.
However, Russell went from hero to villain after a loose pass inside his own half was collected by Jack Nowell and he found Henry Slade for a critical try at the posts.
Four minutes later, Racing again responded as a penalty gave them a platform to move into the Exeter 22 and they took full advantage as Camille Chat peeled off the back of a driving maul and dived over.
The conversion made it 28-24 and it would be a one-point game with 15 minutes to play when Virimi Vakatawa broke clear but Racing didn’t spot the overlap and eventually settled for a Machenaud penalty kick.
The moment @ExeterChiefs have been working so hard for and waiting so long for 🏆
Champions of Europe 👏
— Heineken Champions Cup (@ChampionsCup) October 17, 2020
Racing piled on the pressure with a man extra in the final eight minutes as Tomas Francis was sent to the sin bin for deliberate knock-on.
But Racing opted for the corner instead of the tricky penalty kick and after over 20 bruising phases, Sam Hidalgo-Clyne came up with the crucial turnover for the Chiefs.
Exeter managed to cling on and as Racing attempted to wrestle possession back, they gave up another penalty and allowed Joe Simmonds to boot over a three-pointer with the clock in the red, giving the English side a maiden European success.