Exeter relishing underdog tag in semi-final against Champions Cup holders La Rochelle, insists director of rugby Rob Baxter… with Chiefs boasting a ‘pretty good’ record’ against French teams in Europe
- Exeter face holders La Rochelle in the Champions Cup semi-finals
- Wing Nowell will captain the Chiefs against the side he’ll join next term
- Director of rugby Baxter is relishing Sunday’s showdown in Bordeaux
No-one expected Exeter to be in a European semi-final after a season of Premiership mediocrity and no-one expects the Chiefs to beat holders La Rochelle on Sunday.
But in their ‘Last Dance’ campaign, that position could just suit the men from Sandy Park down to the ground as they prepare for a gruelling examination in Bordeaux.
‘We are going very much to overturn the tables which is a nice challenge for us and one we should be relishing,’ admitted Exeter director of rugby Rob Baxter.
‘We are going to have get an awful lot right and be massively resilient. La Rochelle are going to land shots. They’re a good team. But we’ve got a pretty good record against French teams.
‘We’ve got to back ourselves. We’ve got some good firepower.
Jack Nowell (above) will captain Exeter on Sunday against the side he’ll join next term
Exeter director of rugby Rob Baxter is relishing Sunday’s showdown against La Rochelle
’Exeter missed out on this season’s Premiership play-offs for the second straight year, but the Champions Cup has been their happy place.
Baxter’s side have played their best rugby in Europe. They will have to be close to perfect to beat La Rochelle, who disposed of Saracens in the quarter-finals in relatively facile fashion.
In Will Skelton and Levani Botia, Ronan O’Gara’s side possess freaks of nature up front, although Exeter will surely take heart from the way Gloucester pushed La Rochelle so close.
The build-up to Exeter’s date with destiny has been dominated by talk of Luke Cowan-Dickie’s future after he spent the night in a Montpellier police cell following a drinking session.
Cowan-Dickie, Sam Simmonds, Jack Nowell and Stuart Hogg are among a raft of players set to leave Exeter at the season’s end.
Nowell captains Baxter’s men against the side he’ll join next term.
Scotland ace Hogg only makes the bench with breakthrough talent Tom Wyatt preferred at full-back.
La Rochelle: Dulin; Leyds, Seuteni, Favre, Rhule; Hastoy, Kerr-Barlow; Wardi, Bourgarit, Atonio, Sazy, Skelton, Dillane, Botia, Alldritt (capt)
Replacements: Lespiaucq-Brettes, Sclavi, Colombe, Lavault, Boudehent, Bourdeau, Berjon, Thomas
Exeter Chiefs: Wyatt; Nowell (capt), Slade, O’Brien, Woodburn; J Simmonds, Becconsall; Sio, Frost, Street, Kirsten, Gray, Vermeulen, Tshiunza, S Simmonds
Replacements: Yeandle, Abuladze, Iosefa-Scott, Davis, Ewers, Townsend, Skinner, Hogg
Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)
Kick-off: 3pm Sunday
TV: BT Sport 1
‘It is a big game for the club,’ said Baxter, who has been busy plotting Exeter 2.0 for the seasons to come but still hopes the current campaign can end with silverware.
Exeter know what it takes to beat La Rochelle on French soil having done so in the 2019/20 season when they claimed European glory for the first and only time.
The Chiefs are the only English representation in the last four of the Champions Cup.
On Saturday, Leinster host Toulouse in a mouth-watering first semi-final.
Welsh region Scarlets are at home to Glasgow Warriors in the semi-final of the second tier Challenge Cup. The winner of that game will face either Toulon or Benetton in the final in Dublin.
Saracens flanker Jackson Wray will retire from rugby at the end of the season after spending his entire career with the club.
Wray is only of only five Saracens players to have made more than 300 appearances and has won four Premiership titles and three European crowns.