Exeter Chiefs fell to another play-off final defeat at Twickenham at the start of June, with an agonizing defeat to Saracens. That makes only one win in four Premiership finals, you may forgive Chiefs fans for thinking play-off fixtures are not for them. But when you revisit the Exeter Chiefs 2010 Championship Play-off final, you find the foundation for their recent success.
Fans may still be feeling deflated from the abrupt end to their season, However, they should never forget their most famous moment; the Exeter Chiefs 2010 Championship Play-off final, when the Devon-based side first broke into the Premiership.
Last Word on Rugby revisits the two-legged final in 2010 that sparked the biggest shake-up of the Premiership, and laid the foundations for the Exeter Chiefs dynasty.
First leg: Exeter Chiefs 9 Bristol Rugby 6
Coming into this final Bristol had inevitably topped the Championship table following relegation from the Premiership the previous year. However this is where their play-off woes started, as the league had been restructured for the 2009/10 season.
It was also the first fully professional season of the second tier. An elongated three-stage league season culminated in a final between the top two; a classic clash between underdog and giant.
Bristol were given the choice of where to play first and chose the away leg first. Unsurprisingly the Chiefs roused their biggest ever crowd of 10,021 at their four-year-old Sandy Park stadium. Runners up in the previous season, Exeter repeated the trick under new head coach Rob Baxter.
His philosophy was as evident then as it is now; all-out attack. His side turned down several shots at goal in favour of setting up driving mauls.
However Bristol did the same and, when both were unsuccessful in landing a decisive blow, the only difference on the board was an extra penalty from Gareth Steenson. As a result, it was essentially back to zero.
All down to 80 minutes
The line-ups for the second leg were as follows:
Bristol Rugby: L Arscott, Robinson, Eves, Fatialofa, T Arscott, Jarvis, Spice; Irish, Blaney, Thompson, Montagu, Winters, Grieve, Pennycook, Phillips.
Replacements: Hayes, Vunipola, Barry, Merriman, Alford, Giddens, Adams.
Exeter Chiefs: Foster, Jess, Sestaret, Dollman, McKenzie, Steenson, Thomas; Sturgess, Clark, Tui, Hayes, Hanks, Slade, Scaysbrook, Baxter.
Replacements: Alcott, Budgen, Gannon, Johnson, Stuart-Smith, Gray, Cornwell.
Bristol were hoping the experienced half-back duo of Adrian Jarvis and Jason Spice could see them over the line. The Vunipola name on the their bench that day, was none other than Mako, who came through their academy.
Against them, the Exeter Chiefs 2010 Championship squad were an aspirational team, with Mark Foster, James Scaysbrook and Haydn Thomas providing valuable premiership experience.
In comparison to the first leg, Exeter took all of their point-scoring chances, with Steenson landing the first two of six penalties within the first 15 minutes. Bristol finally scored the first try of the tie through Luke Arscott which brought them within two points on aggregate. Further penalties from Steenson opened up a comfortable 11 point lead overall. Chiefs fans were starting to dream.
In the rain of Bristol at the rather dilapidated Memorial Stadium, it was always going to be difficult for the home side to pull back a two-score deficit. With the score at 24-10, the result was already decided before Exeter registered their first try through hooker Simon Alcott.
Foundations laid by Rob Baxter’s Exeter Chiefs 2010 Championship squad
The first promotion play-offs in the Championship and Exeter played them perfectly. It should have been no surprise when Exeter consequently won their first Premiership match, and stayed up comfortably.
To then go on to win a play-off final at Twickenham seven years later, to claim the Premiership title, was a remarkable feat.
It is still worth stating this today, so as to appreciate what Exeter has achieved in the last ten years. 2010 was the launching point for much of the club’s recent success, their culture and the popularity – solid foundations laid then, by Rob Baxter’s Exeter Chiefs 2010 Championship squad
Exeter Chiefs are always a strong argument against Premiership ring-fencing, but it is true that this is an achievement yet to be replicated by another Championship club. The chances of Newcastle Falcons not getting promoted are very slim, so we will continue to look back to 2010 for this fairytale story.
But it’s definitely one worth telling.
Main image credit: Embed from Getty Images