Exeter 42-17 Stormers: Chiefs cruise into Champions Cup semi-finals

Exeter 42-17 Stormers: Chiefs run in six tries to secure place in the semi-finals of the Champions Cup… with visitors all at sea after arriving via four different flights from Cape Town

  • First time an English team has reached the semis since Exeter triumphed in 2020
  • Chiefs will face either La Rochelle or Saracens – who meet on Sunday – in last four
  • Match highlighted ridiculous travel facing South African teams in competition 

Rob Baxter watched Exeter deliver their ‘best performance of the season’ so it was no surprise he was in good spirits after his team reached the Champions Cup semi-finals.

‘I have to admit it tastes good,’ said Baxter, sipping from a can of lager as he dissected a six-try hammering of South African side Stormers. 

English club rugby might be in the midst of a dramatic reset after a season of financial turmoil, but it will have at least one representative in Europe’s last four. 

It is the first time an English team has reached this stage since Exeter won the title in 2020. They will face either La Rochelle or Saracens – who meet on Sunday – for a place in the final at the end of the month.

The Chiefs deserved it too. They were outstanding. Their ‘Last Dance’ season – which will see a number of their star names leave at its end – could yet still end with a trophy.

Exeter produced their best performance of the season to beat Stormers on Saturday

‘For me personally I would put this near the top,’ said director of rugby Baxter, when asked where this victory ranked among all of Exeter’s successes in recent times.

‘We achieved a momentous thing for this rugby club by winning the double and ever since then people have been saying the castle has been crumbling.

‘My motivation is to prove that’s not been the case. We are not a broken rugby club. If you make a European semi-final you are not a bad team.’

Exeter scored six tries to move within just two games of what would be a second European crown.

But this game was also confirmation of just how big an impact the ridiculous travel to and from South Africa can have on teams in this new era of competition.

Stormers, conquerors of Harlequins in Cape Town in the last 16 last weekend, were all at sea here after arriving at Sandy Park via four different flights to Heathrow earlier this week.

Their Springbok full-back Damian Willemse said his team had devised a game plan to beat Exeter on the plane. There was not much evidence of any plan at all here. The paucity of the away performance, particularly before half time, showed just why European rugby bosses simply can’t expect South African sides to travel to Europe on a week’s notice and be competitive.

The same would be true in reverse. Both Stormers and Cell C Sharks suffered defeats in Europe, the latter being hammered in Toulouse.

‘I don’t want to go down a rabbit hole of excuses because we were well beaten,’ said Stormers head coach John Dobson. ‘We flew in four groups, the first on Tuesday lunch.

‘We had a little training session on Thursday and then a captain’s run on Friday. We were simply blown off the field in the first 25 minutes.’

Dobson admitted his team’s travel had been a factor and that European rugby needs to look at how cross-hemisphere journeys impact performance.

‘Don’t write us out of this competition yet,’ he said. ‘We’ll be back.’

Exeter raced into a 21-0 half-time lead with Stormers not at the races. Tom Wyatt, Jack Nowell – who was forced off in the second half with injury – and Olly Woodburn all scored.

Baxter’s side were as good as Stormers were bad.

More car crash South African defence allowed Sam Simmonds to waltz over between the posts at the start of the second half. It put the game to bed as a contest.

Sandy Park went wild. But from a neutral’s perspective, it was sad to see a team as good as the Stormers perform so poorly on a big stage. If South African teams are to remain in European competition, the travel logistics for back-to-back knock-out stages must be looked at.

The visitors did grab one back through Willemse but even that had a touch of fortune about it as it looked like the ball had gone forward. Ruhan Nel also had one chalked off for blocking.

Suleiman Hartzenberg did make up for that by beating Nowell to the line.

But the Stormers had given themselves too much to do.

Jack Yeandle joined the back of the rolling maul after throwing the ball in for the fifth try

Scrum-half Tom Cairns dives over to seal a comprehensive victory at Sandy Park

Exeter replacements Jack Yeandle and Tom Cairns completed the home scoring, either side of another Stormers consolation from Marvin Orie.

‘I want the guys to go out on a high but we are only going to do that together. It was a really good team performance,’ said Baxter.

He concluded by saying Stormers had ‘not had a great preparation week by any stretch’ and that a semi-final would be a ‘no lose scenario.’

A possible meeting with Exeter’s ‘enemy’ Saracens would be a prospect to savour.

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