Attention turns to domestic success after Chiefs' European exit
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Tony Rowe: East Devon resident, Exeter Chiefs chairman and prominent businessman writes for this title.
Sadly, our grip on the Heineken Champions Cup is now over following out recent defeat at home to Leinster in the quarter-finals.
Instead, we must quickly switch our attentions back to domestic matters and the challenge of defending our Gallagher Premiership title over these next few months.
Whilst disappointed to see our European challenge end for the season, I think we can again take great pride in a campaign which, let’s be honest, has thrown up numerous challenges and tested us in ways we are unlikely to face again.
From starting with a real bang against Glasgow Warriors in Round One, the high of that success was quickly extinguished as within a week we were looking at the possibility of conceding our crown almost immediately when we suffered an outbreak of Covid within the playing side here at the club.
I know all of us at the time felt a sense of real dejection, particularly as events were out of our control, but with the whole of Europe continuing to suffer the effects of the pandemic early in the New Year, it was only right that the two remaining pool games were subsequently cancelled.
Thankfully, our efforts in that opening game were enough for us to be amongst the new-look Round of 16 and we were duly able to make the most of our opportunity, defeating Lyon here a fortnight ago with a powerful display.
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That result led us nicely into the game against Leinster, a side we know have a rich history within the competition. That said, our guys went into the game brimming with confidence – and they showed it to the full – particularly during that opening quarter, where we built an early lead.
As we know, however, becoming European champions is no easy feat, so for Leinster – who themselves have won it four times previously – they were able to call upon that experience to not only haul themselves back into the game but, ultimately, to victory in the end.
As Rob said afterwards, this was only the third time we have ever reached the quarter-finals. For Leinster, it was their 17th quarter-final, so I am sure lessons will be learnt by our guys moving forward.
As for the here and now, it’s back to the Premiership and with it just a handful of rounds left in the regular season. Returning to winning ways last week against Wasps underlined our champion credentials, but those are sure to be put to the test in Friday’s local derby at Bristol Bears.
Like ourselves, the Bears harbour great ambitions and having already built up a 12-point lead in the standings going into this latest match-up, there are very much the team to be given their form so far this season.
Peaking now, however, is no good. Instead, making sure we are firing on all cylinder come the latter weeks of June is where it will matter and I’ve no doubt our lads will time their run to the finish line with perfection.
As defending champions, we are naturally the ‘big scalp’ every side wants.
It will be tough, of course it will, but I know all too well the fire that exists within our players and how desperate they will be to replicate their success of last season. These next few weeks promise to be full of thrills and spills – and I can’t wait to see all of the action unfold!