The Exeter Chiefs and owner Tony Rowe realised a dream on Saturday afternoon when Gareth Steenson kicked them to Aviva Premiership glory.
Exeter Chiefs Realise Premiership Dream
Steenson’s extra-time penalty gave the Exeter Chiefs a 23-20 victory over Wasps at Twickenham. It completes a phenomenal journey from newly promoted to new champions in just seven years.
Jack Nowell and Phil Dollman crossed early for the Exeter Chiefs before Jimmy Gopperth and Elliot Daly almost led Wasps home. It was the spectacle we had all wished for with so many stand out performers in a sun-drenched Twickenham.
Nathan Hughes and Joe Launchbury performed so immensely they could start for the Lions tomorrow. Ollie Devoto returned to the player that Eddie Jones had selected in his first England squad.
MAGIC MOMENTS pic.twitter.com/dOupdEB0IN
The two sides finished level on points after 22 rounds of the Aviva Premiership season and delivered a contest befitting their excellence. Wasps themselves have enjoyed a glorious return to the top and in south London lost nothing in defeat.
It was the rarest of scenarios where by only one could hoist the trophy, but both the Exeter Chiefs and Wasps were long term winners.
Exeter Chiefs completed their project a year quicker than Wasps, but Dai Young’s men will have their time in the sun soon enough.
Exeter Chiefs: The Rise and The Rise
It’s often productive, even if sometimes hardly plausible, to revisit the history book to see just how far a team has come. In 1997 the Exeter Chiefs won promotion from National League 1 – the third tier of English rugby. That same year Wasps were tussling with Toulouse in the European Cup.
Two decades on and they were sparring with each other in the Aviva Premiership – time sure does fly when you’re having fun. It’s testament to the work the club and most notably Rob Baxter has done that they were favourites to lift the trophy.
The Exeter Chiefs have enjoyed an upward trajectory like no other since promotion in 2010 and have won at about every ground there is to play it in England. A first play-off appearance last year was turned into their first final. That day they lost to Saracens but they went one better this time with victory.
Their recognition has justifiably extended beyond the four stands of Sandy Park with Nowell becoming the club’s first Lion. Team mates Henry Slade and Luke Cowan Dickie have both appeared for England and full-back Dollman has just been called up by Wales.
The stature of the club is such that next year, not only with they begin as champions, they can boast a player like Australian international Nic White. The Wallaby swapping the French riches in Montpellier to ply his trade in Devon speaks volumes about the club’s standing.
Baxter has created a culture at Exeter that is the envy of almost every other Aviva Premiership side. Rest assured that were England looking for a home grown coach tomorrow there would only be one candidate. This Chiefs side deserve every bit of praise currently being heaped upon them, and lap it up they will, for more looks set to come.
Wasps: The Rise After The Demise
5th May 2012: Newcastle Falcons defeat then London Wasps 14-10 at Adams Park. Newcastle get the win they need to save themselves and relegate Wasps, but the lack of a bonus point still sends them down.
Wasps survived by the skin of their teeth but since then have ensured they will never be in a similar situation again. After finishing 11th their league position has risen every year until they reached the top in 2017.
Dai Young has overseen the rebirth of Wasps, as have academy produced stalwarts Launchbury and Daly. The latter must have thought his try was enough to seal the trophy on Saturday but it wasn’t to be.
Since that near miss in 2012 Wasps have become arguably England’s richest club with the backing of Derek Richardson. Their move to Coventry has elevated the club’s finances and stature which was confirmed when Kurtley Beale and Willie Le Roux penned contracts at the Ricoh Arena last summer.
Wasps have become the country’s great entertainers and in defeat yesterday still broadcasted what they are about. You can only come so far in a year but Wasps will be more than satisfied with their season.
Like Exeter Chiefs who lost a final before they managed to win one, Wasps will be wiser for the experience. A year further on in their development and understanding about how they must play as a unit. This season has further legitimised their ambitions following two semi-finals last year and they remain a good bet to go one better again next year.
The Next 12 Months
Both Wasps and the Exeter Chiefs have similar itinerary for 2018. The slight difference being that Wasps will aim to win one more game than they managed this year.
Exeter, now holding the tag of English champions, will hope to tackle Europe more effectively than they have done in recent seasons. A solitary quarter final in 2016, which they lost to Wasps, is their only excursion beyond the pool stages.
Admittedly they have been handed challenging pools, but a side worthy of winning the Premiership should be well equipped enough to compete on two fronts.
Wasps will inevitably go again, both on the field and off it. Beale is returning to Australia this summer which could prompt Wasps to dip into the market. Critics suggested that they were perhaps a forward or two short this year which should be a priority.
The return from long term injury of Sam Jones will be a welcome plus but Young may still look to bolster his squad. The exciting Marcus Watson arrives from Newcastle and he is expected to bed himself comfortably into the way Wasps play.
A final word on Exeter and the challenge for Baxter. A monumental achievement it was to lift the Premiership trophy, but the task for a club so endeared for its humility, is to maintain the principles that got them there in the first place.