Exeter Chiefs 31–27 Racing 92
There was something of a joyous symmetry to it all. Back in the city where Exeter Chiefs reached the promised land of the Premiership 10 years ago, they achieved the holy grail, securing their first European Champions Cup against Racing 92, in a pulsating final for the ages.
Within the sea of empty seats that surrounded them, Chiefs made a blistering start. Just 6 minutes into the match, the forward pack showed why they are arguably the most feared in Europe, Luke Cowan-Dickie dotting down from the back of the maul.
It was to get even better for Rob Baxter’s men on 15 minutes, the forwards again going to work, newly crowned European Player of the Year Sam Simmonds crashing over for his eighth try of the European campaign.
Racing were not going to lie down easily though. This was their third European final in five seasons, without ever securing that elusive first title. Their responsive was as clinical as it was classy, the mercurial Finn Russell conjuring a stunning pass to allow Simon Zebo to race over the line. They would score their second on 31 minutes, Argentine Juan Imhoff scoring after selling a dummy off the base of a ruck that left Jonny Gray clutching at thin air.
With the scores precariously poised, the Chiefs were to have the last say in the first 40 as Harry Williams crashed over with the half’s last act to open up a 21-12 advantage.
Racing started the second half with the bit between their teeth, reducing the deficit to 4 points with Zebo’s second score, only for them to inflict self-imposed destruction on themselves two minutes later. For all Finn Russell’s genius, there are times when he can perhaps be too extravagant with ball in hand. His lofted pass out to Virimi Vakatawa was plucked expertly from the air by Jack Nowell, his offload allowing Henry Slade to run in under the posts.
Racing were to respond again though, Camille Chat producing a near carbon copy of Cowan-Dickie’s early effort to reduce the gap again. A 65th minute penalty from Maxime Machenaud reduced the gap to a solitary point as the game reached a titanic conclusion.
If Chiefs hearts weren’t already in their mouths at that point, they certainly were minutes later as Racing hammered the Chiefs line, Thomas Francis seeing yellow for a deliberate knock-on. Inexplicably, they opted to go for the corner rather than a shot at goal before Sam Hidalgo-Clyne secured a penalty for the Chiefs to ease the nerves.
With play in the final minute, Exeter secured a penalty which Joe Simmonds duly dispatched. Despite initial confusion over whether time was up, Nigel Owens confirmed it indeed was, sparking jubilant scenes from those in Chiefs colours.
The image of Rob Baxter gazing adoringly at his players as they celebrated with the trophy will live long in the memory. This was a historic day for the club, that can only be hoped signals the start of a period of continued success for Exeter Chiefs.