Champions Cup Final: Teams and Predictions
NEW KINGS OF EUROPE: Exeter Chiefs and Racing 92 will go in search of a first Champions Cup crown on Saturday when they clash at Ashton Gate in this season’s showpiece final.
The showpiece match in Bristol was under a cloud after nine Racing personnel tested positive for the coronavirus a fortnight ago.
That led to the postponement of their Top 14 clash with La Rochelle and saw the Paris-based club, bankrolled by billionaire businessman Jacky Lorenzetti, move their training base to Corsica.
Racing were given the all-clear on Thursday, with English side Exeter having received a clean bill of health the day before.
Racing are now set to fly straight from the Mediterranean island to Bristol on Friday as they look to finally landed European club rugby union’s greatest prize following final defeats by Saracens (2016) and Leinster (2018).
“It means so much to Jacky that they have never managed to win a European title,” said flyhalf Finn Russell, who sparked the move that led to Juan Imhoff’s late try in a semi-final win over reigning champions Saracens. “It is huge for the club if we are able to win it.”
*Article continues below…
‘Break the system’
Following a 19-15 win over Saracens, elated Argentina wing Imhoff said: “We won with something extraordinary which breaks the system.
“It’s now 80 minutes, anything can happen. We’re where want to be.”
Exeter know what it’s like to both win and lose against Saracens, with many at the club convinced the 2017 Premiership champions were denied several more titles as a result of salary cap infringements that saw the London side relegated to the second-tier for next season.
Now Exeter, who like Racing pride themselves on having plenty of forward strength with a touch of backline flair as exemplified by Scotland fullback Stuart Hogg, are just two games away from becoming only the fourth English club to complete a domestic and European title double season just ten years since gaining promotion to the Premiership.
While Racing can boast an all-star XV, Exeter delight in being a largely homegrown outfit.
Having seen Exeter defeat French giants Toulouse 28-18 in the semi-finals – a match where uncapped flyhalf Joe Simmonds scored 13 points – former England scrumhalf Matt Dawson believes the Chiefs are “absolutely flying” right now.
“Forwards, backs, interplay, tries, defence, commitment and desire – the whole shooting match is in that team,” the 2003 World Cup-winner also told the BBC.
Meanwhile even Exeter’s usually restrained and long-serving head coach Rob Baxter did not shy away from the importance of a match that takes place on the same Ashton Gate ground where Exeter beat Bristol to secure promotion 10 years ago.
“Well, it’s probably the biggest game in the club’s history now we’re here,” said Baxter.
“I still hark back to actually winning promotion to the Premiership as being one of the key fundamental steps and it always will be.”
Saturday’s match was meant to have been played before a crowd at the Stade Velodrome in Marseille before the pandemic saw it become a behind closed doors fixture in Bristol.
“Maybe it’s just fate,” said Baxter.
Exeter Chiefs: 15 Stuart Hogg, 14 Jack Nowell, 13 Henry Slade, 12 Ian Whitten, 11 Tom O’Flaherty, 10 Joe Simmonds (captain), 9 Jack Maunder, 8 Sam Simmonds, 7 Jacques Vermeulen, 6 Dave Ewers, 5 Jonny Hill, 4 Jonny Gray, 3 Harry Williams, 2 Luke Cowan-Dickie, 1 Alec Hepburn.
Replacements: 16 Jack Yeandle, 17 Ben Moon, 18 Tom Francis, 19 Sam Skinner, 20 Jannes Kirsten, 21 Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, 22 Gareth Steenson, 23 Ollie Devoto.
Racing 92: 15 Simon Zebo, 14 Louis Dupichot, 13 Virimi Vakatawa, 12 Henry Chavancy (captain), 11 Juan Imhoff, 10 Finn Russell, 9 Teddy Iribaren, 8 Antonie Claassen, 7 Fabien Sanconnie, 6 Wenceslas Lauret, 5 Dominic Bird, 4 Bernard Le Roux, 3 Georges Henri Colombe, 2 Camille Chat, 1 Eddy Ben Arous.
Replacements: 16 Teddy Baubigny, 17 Hassane Kolingar, 18 Ali Oz, 19 Donnacha Ryan, 20 Boris Palu, 21 Maxime Machenaud, 22 Olivier Klemenczak, 23 Kurtley Beale.
Date: Saturday, October 17
Venue: Ashton Gate Stadium, Bristol
Kick-off: 16:45 (17.45 France time, 15.45 GMT)
Referee: Nigel Owens
Assistant Referees: Mike Adamson & Craig Evans
TMO: Ian Davies
Source: AFP & @ChampionsCup