Exeter 'creating a platform' for the future but all of a sudden, it is about the here and now

Rob Baxter and Exeter will now be hoping to translate their European momentum into the Premiership

Over the Easter weekend, Exeter Chiefs took another step towards the Heineken Champions Cup final as they smashed the DHL Stormers 42-17, having been up 28-0 at one point in the game.

To become the Kings of Europe for a second time would be the perfect send-off for Exeter’s core group of players that have occupied the jersey for so many years.

Stalwarts Luke Cowan-Dickie and Sam Simmonds have penned moves to Montpellier whilst reports suggest Jack Nowell is on his way to the Chiefs' semi-final opponents, La Rochelle.

This campaign will likely be the last hurrah for these players and a win in Europe would cap off a phenomenal era at the club.

Head Coach Rob Baxter wants the players leaving the club to focus on using their remaining time in the jersey to “create a platform” for the future of Exeter Chiefs.

"If I’m a senior player and my biggest motivation is that I want to end on a high then that’s fine, but I’m actually saying to the lads but if you are a senior player, you should create a great platform for the young guys.

"When this team broke through, they had senior players who created a platform for them to excel and become internationals and British and Irish Lions. I want those guys to go out on a high, but they’ll only do that if they do it together."

Baxter has rated Saturday's quarter-final victory as one of the greatest during his time with Exeter: "I would put it near the top. We achieved an incredible thing for this rugby club as a group of players and staff which was winning a double (2020 Premiership and Champions Cup). Ever since then everyone outside of the club has been saying the castle has been crumbling.

"One thing that has been my biggest motivation is to make sure that is not the case. Clearly, you don’t get to a Heineken Cup semi-final if everything’s wrong. Even if today [Saturday] ends up being our biggest day of the season, we still knocked over the URC winners and we did it in some style."

Olly Woodburn grabbed the headlines with his phenomenal individual performance which saw him bag a try, rack up huge running metres and produce a sensational try-saving tackle. Tom Wyatt, Henry Slade and Joe Simmonds also went well individually and Baxter was eager to credit the unseen work in his side which was crucial to the win.

"We had guys out there playing incredible and people wouldn’t have even known that they had played great. That’s what made it a good performance," said Baxter.

"I knew he [Tom Wyatt] was a good player or else we wouldn’t have put him in there. How he has performed in two pressure games is probably the most impressive thing that I’ve seen about him so far. Being a good player in a Premiership Cup game compared to being a good player in two Heineken Cup games, there’s a big difference there."

The Stormers were uncharacteristically flat in intensity and their performance on the weekend was nearly unrecognisable compared to their win against Harlequins the week before. This is likely due to the travelling that the South Africans were forced to do prior to the game.

Damian Willemse admitted that his side were forced to prepare for the match whilst on the plane journey. As enjoyable as it was to see Exeter run riot and click as a team in a way they haven’t managed to in recent weeks, it was equally disappointing to see the Stormers so muted, particularly in the first half.

Baxter predicts that one-week turnarounds will be addressed in next year’s tournament: “I’m not daft. They hadn’t had an ideal preparation week by any means. The one-week turnaround is probably going to get looked at. If you involve the South African teams, it does make it very difficult for them. I’m not going to sit here and say that that is a good preparation week for them because, of course, it’s not."

In a season where Exeter's inconsistencies and their rebuild have been talking points, the Chiefs are proving a lot of people wrong and now have a European semi-final to look forward to it against the current holders La Rochelle on April 30th.

Following their defeat to Bath in their last Premiership outing, the climax to the campaign could have been a damp squib but with their play-off hopes still not dead and buried, it could be a season that emphatically punctuates the end of this particular Exeter era.