Exeter Chiefs are on their way to the Heineken Champions Cup semi-finals, yet a few months ago even the most passionate fans wouldn’t have predicted this. So what has changed for the Chiefs at Sandy Park?
Look back a couple of weeks, the Chiefs had been humiliated in Bath. And before that, were put to the sword by Harlequins. Yet now they are ‘lasering in’ on European glory in the 2022/23 Heineken Champions Cup.
Baxter’s back at Sandy Park
Rob Baxter was the man at the helm for the club’s most successful period, but in recent years he’s taken a step back and Ali Hepher has taken the reigns. Yet now, Baxter’s back at Sandy Park, and the reason for their place in the upcoming semi-finals can be explained in this way.
The defeat at Bath saw the return of Rob. He came out in the media and said ‘he’d change the squad’ and he did exactly that.
Baxter brought in Will Becconsall, Tom Cairns and Tom Wyatt from the Premiership Cup side, and they’ve repaid the faith shown in them with very impressive performances.
📺 – 𝗠𝗔𝗧𝗖𝗛 𝗛𝗜𝗚𝗛𝗟𝗜𝗚𝗛𝗧𝗦
Want to see it all again?
Check out the best bits from yesterday's European Rugby Champions Cup victoryhttps://t.co/jTr21UBpXU#EXEvSTO pic.twitter.com/6J3iKK1fHj
— Exeter Chiefs (@ExeterChiefs) April 9, 2023
Rob Baxter’s rugby blueprint is also coming back. They’ve returned to a strong set-piece that served them so well for years. The Chiefs have also looked to earn the right to play wide, expansive rugby, by building through the phases with strong carrying from the pack. And this weekend it became a ‘fortress Sandy Park’ after a good 80-minute performance.
Welcome to ‘Fortress Sandy Park’
Let’s look back at Sandy Park in December; falling attendance led to a flat atmosphere in the ground. Yes it has been said ‘Sandy Park used to be a fortress’, though this weekend the team built off the energy of the crowd to drive ahead to victory. The 2016 Premiership semi-final – the first in the club’s history – and the 2018 Prem Rugby semi-final [to name a couple] bring back amazing memories for a lot of the Chiefs faithful. And dgainst Montpellier and the Stormers, this atmosphere returned.
The stadium announcer even thanked the crowd at half-time!
The club have made a big deal about bringing fans back to Sandy Park, especially for European fixtures. #JointheJourney has been used on all social media posts ahead of the game, and the club are building that connection with the fans that has been missing for a while.
‘The Last Dance’ for senior Chiefs
This group of players have been special for the Chiefs, however, a big core of the group are leaving. They will be without the likes of Dave Ewers, Luke Cowan-Dickie and Sam Simmonds next season, and that makes their European journey even sweeter.
This group have won everything there is to win, yet they desperately want another Champions Cup to wrap off the Devon Dynasty. Something special is brewing in Exeter, you can see it on the faces of men like Rob Baxter. But, will it lead them to European glory?
Follow Last Word on Rugby to see how the Heineken Champions Cup semi-finals progress here. Facebook and Twitter conversations carry on here.
“Main photo credit Exeter Chiefs rugby twitter page“