Exeter have to be favourites today – they are at ‘home’, even if they’ve had to drive up to Bristol for the match, and the squad has been unhindered by the ill effects of Covid-19. But Racing 92 are not going to roll over, and their captain Henry Chavancy is making all the right noises:
“We really worked very hard so that this time the details are in our favour and that the result is in our favour.”
Read Gerard Meagher’s piece from yesterday:
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Here’s Racing 92’s line-up for today in embedded-tweet form.
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Is Rob Baxter the Brian Clough of English rugby union?
“When he went to sign the Leicester and England forward Thomas Waldrom at a motorway service station he could see the player eyeing a chocolate muffin on display by the counter. Not only did he encourage Waldrom to order it, he would turn a blind eye whenever the No 8 slipped away with Tomas Francis for a cream tea in Topsham the afternoon before a game.”
Read Robert Kitson on Exeter’s remarkable rise to the top:
It’s all good news on the fitness front for Exeter: England wing Jack Nowell was a doubt with a foot injury, but has been passed fit to start. Henry Slade, Joe Simmonds and Jonny Gray all had fitness concerns too, but all start.
For Racing 92, Teddy Thomas misses out on the wing with Louis Dupichot coming into the starting line-up. Finn Russell starts at fly-half and Virimi Vakatawa takes his place at outside centre alongside captain Henry Chavancy at No 12. Ireland’s Simon Zebo is at full-back. Look out for the hooker, Camille Chat, who is a massive handful in the loose.
Exeter: Hogg; Nowell, Slade, Whitten, O’Flaherty; J Simmonds (capt.), Maunder; Hepburn, Cowan-Dickie, Williams, Gray, Hill, Ewers, Vermeulen, S Simmonds.
Replacements: Yeandle, Moon, Francis, Skinner, Kirsten, Hidalgo-Clyne, Steenson, Devoto.
Racing 92: Zebo; Dupichot, Vakatawa, Chavancy (capt.), Imhoff; Russell, Iribaren; Ben Arous, Chat, Colombe, Le Roux, Bird, Lauret, Sanconnie, Claassen.
Replacements: Baubigny, Kolingar, Oz, Ryan, Palu, Machenaud, Klemenczak, Beale.
If Exeter needed any kind of warning about what Russell and Vakatawa are capable of, they needed to look no further than the semi-final score against Saracens which clinched their place in today’s final:
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We live in world in which one of the teams contesting next weekend’s Premiership final may be decided in a laboratory rather than on a rugby pitch: so it’s good start that Exeter and Racing 92 are both here, in the Champions Cup final, on merit alone.
A second British triumph of the weekend – Bristol earned their first European title by defeating Toulon in the European Challenge Cup last night – would feel like coming full circle for Rob Baxter and his relentlessly impressive team. The venue today is Ashton Gate, and Exeter first secured promotion to the domestic top flight in the city of Bristol 10 years ago. Good omens won’t count for very much when the match begins, but Racing 92 haven’t enjoyed the smoothest of lead-ups to today’s final, either.
The French club recorded nine Covid-19 positives at the beginning of the month and have subsequently spent a week in Corsica preparing in a bio-secure bubble. Exeter have recently recorded a clean bill of health on that front, and it’s difficult to believe the insistence from Racing’s camp that those positive tests and the subsequent upheaval has not hampered their preparations. However, Racing 92 are a battle-hardened and dangerous team and unlike Exeter they have been here before – most recently losing the final to Leinster in crushing late fashion two years ago. Their captain, Henry Chavancy, insists they have everything in place to find a way past Exeter today.
Baxter’s side, of course, are still fighting on two fronts. Win two matches in eight days and they will be European and Premiership champions come next Saturday night. Can they reach the pinnacle of European club rugby today, and take that first step on the road to a famous double? Team news and plenty of pre-match reading coming right up.
Kick-off: 4.45pm BST.
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