Rob Baxter says he and his Exeter Chiefs squad should relish what is another ‘exciting’ Heineken Champions Cup pool for the upcoming season.
The Chiefs were today named in Pool Two of the 2018/19 competition, lining up alongside reigning Top14 champions Castres Olympique, Irish giant Munster and Premiership rivals Gloucester.
For the Chiefs, both Castres and Munster are new opponents, having never faced either in competitive action before. The latter, however, do provide a pre-season test for Baxter’s side when they lock horns in Cork on Friday, August 24.
Ranked as one of the five Tier Two sides for the competition, it’s a European draw that Baxter feels offers a great opportunity for his players, who last season were pitted against Glasgow Warriors, Montpellier and eventual winners Leinster.
“You get to this stage every year, where you look at the draw and say ‘ooosh’,” said Baxter. “The reality, however, is you know it’s going to be a tough draw because it’s the top clubs across Europe all going against one another.
“At the same time, I think it’s fantastic that there are a couple of new sides in there for us. Ironically, I’ve been saying to people all week that I bet we draw Munster as it’s the first time we are playing them in pre-season and then we draw them in the Heineken Cup.
“As I said, it’s a fantastic set of fixtures for us. To go to a new club in France, another in Ireland, these are great opportunities for us to test ourselves in different environments. It’s also great for the supporters as I am sure they will want to travel to those two places.
“Equally, we’ve had some real battles with Gloucester since day one of the Premiership, so it’s good to have them in our group on their return to the competition.”
With the Chiefs again ready to pit their wits against Europe’s elite, Baxter is hopeful lessons from last season’s campaign have been learnt and that his side will be able to really attack the tournament this term.
“You’ve got to target the competition,” said the Chiefs’ Director of Rugby. “Two years ago we won the Premiership and last year we came runners-up, so to say we’re not going to go after Europe is somewhat crazy.
“What’s the point in work hard to get into the top half of the Premiership, then the top four, then those final weeks of the season, if you then don’t want to be involved in the big games in Europe. That’s how we see it here at the club and it’s what I say to our players all the time.
“We see ourselves as a strong side, who are more than capable of competing on multiple fronts. We showed it last year and we’ll do the same again this year. I want us to be enthusiastic about Europe, not run away from the challenge. If we fail in trying to do that, we fail. But I want us to go flat out from day one and see where it gets us.”
Last season the Chiefs showed how their European stock had risen considerably, claiming a Champions Cup double over Montpellier, as well as seeing off Glasgow Warriors at home in their opening pool fixture. Sadly, back-to-back defeats at the hands of Leinster, coupled with a final day loss at Glasgow, scuppered their qualification hopes.
Reflecting on that campaign, Baxter said: “The big thing about last season was that we got into the competition very well. We started with the two wins, but then we let ourselves down in that first fixture against Leinster in the double-header. On the day we weren’t at the level we needed to be at – and that was disappointing because we came into the game on the back of some good form in the Premiership.
“In a way we kind of rolled into that game and that is what hurt us. The following week over in Dublin we were much better, we put in a good performance and we were unlucky not to get a result that day. Then with the final game up at Glasgow, where we had everything in our hands in terms of qualifying, again we came up short and that was another disappointment.
“Moving forward, I’d like to think those two disappointments are what we learn from. It showed to all of us the level of focus and intensity that you need within the competition from minute one. I know that sounds a bit obvious and what you expect to here, but it doesn’t just happen, you have to prepare for games like that weeks in advance.”
And it’s that learning curve that Baxter believes will ensure his players will be primed and ready for action once the European campaign kicks-off in October.
Member since: 5th January 2016
Hi, I am Mark Stevens, Media and Communications Manager for the Exeter Chiefs