There will be a new name on rugby union’s European Champions Cup this year, as Exeter take on Racing 92 of Paris in Saturday’s final.
And the two teams could not stand in starker contrast.
Racing are the flash Top 14 outfit who play out of the breathtaking La Defense Arena and have snapped up talent from around France and beyond, while Exeter like to stress their home-grown roots and put the collective over the individual.
The French outfit are in their third final but are
15/8 outsiders over 80 minutes to win. A quarter-final defeat was Exeter’s best European run until now, but the Chiefs are
4/9 favourites to claim their greatest success.
Pedigree Above Performance
European rugby has been a closed shop in recent years and pedigree has been all-important. It’s a remarkable stat that just five teams have contested the last seven finals and only three teams in the last 20 years have lifted the trophy on their first final appearance – Wasps in 2004, Leinster in 2009 and Toulon in 2013.
Racing are among that elite five having reached the final in 2016 and 2018, losing first to Saracens and then Leinster, while Exeter had never really cracked Europe until this season.
However, a semi-final win over Toulouse, four-time winners of this tournament and two-time runners-up, was a significant signal that they are ready to take the next step up. It was not just the 28-18 scoreline but the way all the players stuck to their job following a huge spell of opening pressure when they fell 6-0 behind.
The Chiefs have appeared in four Premiership and four domestic cup finals and the big stage should no longer hold any fears. They are a team who keep playing and hold their nerve. When they win, they win well and a five-point handicap looks well within their compass.
Talent and Tenacity
It is not just in their backgrounds that the teams differ – their approach and playing styles are poles apart too.
Exeter look for territory and possession, playing through their tireless pack who will hold on to the ball for as long as they can and keep working it upfield to deny their opponents an inch of space.
No team is more dangerous from five yards out and penalties in the opposing half which can be kicked into the corner for an attacking line-out so often lead to tries.
Racing’s key threat is that they can turn a game with a moment of magic, just as they did in their semi-final win over Saracens when fly-half Finn Russell’s clever kick released Racing winger Juan Imhoff for the winning try with three minutes to go.
The key for Exeter will be to keep their focus and immediately close down any openings, and that is what they have proved they are so good at.
Because Exeter’s driving maul is such a key weapon, their forwards are always worth following in the tryscorer markets.
Number eight Sam Simmonds, who scored in the semi-final win over Toulouse, is
9/5 favourite in the anytime tryscorer market while hooker Luke Cowan-Dickie, a
5/2 shot, has bagged five tries in the Premiership and two in the pool stage of this tournament.
*All odds correct at time of writing