Exeter’s upcoming European Champions Cup semi-final is not as important in the club’s history as winning promotion to the Premiership in 2010, says director of rugby Rob Baxter.
Exeter, who are top of the Premiership, will host French side Toulouse in the last four this weekend.
“Getting out of the Championship’s been our biggest hurdle,” Baxter said.
“You don’t have to look back through the history of this club to not work out that the step that was the big one was getting out of the Championship.
“Getting out of the Championship took a hundred and whatever years, the reality is getting into the Premiership and staying in the Premiership has been relatively simple compared to getting out of the Championship in terms of time itself.”
This season Exeter have dominated at home and abroad for the first time, winning five of their six European pool games and establishing an unassailable lead at the top of the Premiership with two rounds to play.
But they have come up short in three-quarters of the Premiership finals they have played – losing to Saracens in 2016, 2018 and 2019, as well as being beaten by Wasps in the last minute of their only previous Champions Cup knockout match back in 2016.
But Baxter believes the experience of losing those big games has helped his players form the squad he has today.
“We’ve been very open and assessed all the wins and losses in finals together,” he said.
“We’ve got a large group of players now who have been involved in quite a few of those finals and quite a lot of them understand the emotional difference between getting to a final or getting to a big game and that being the biggest stepping stone and that being the all important thing and actually making sure the performance justifies you being there.
“I think actually there’s a genuine understanding that it can’t be a feeling of relief to be in a semi-final, it has to be a feeling of challenge.
“There’s no feeling in this club at all of guys walking around with big smiles on their faces like they’ve just won the lottery, they’re walking around like there’s a job to be done and that’s purely come from being involved in finals and the experience of it being great to just have a great day out, and also moving on beyond that which is what they’ve done.”
Meanwhile Exeter have confirmed that plans for a crowd of 1,000 to watch their Premiership game with London Irish on Wednesday 30 September have been called off.
The fixture at Sandy Park had been one of a number of pilot events to allow the safe return of spectators to matches in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
But following increased government restrictions due to the rise in cases the match will now be played behind closed doors.