Exeter Chiefs look to challenge for European glory after being crowned the 2016/17 Aviva Premiership champions
The story of Exeter Chiefs’ first ever Premiership title has been well told over the last five months, but now they look ahead to challenging for more success in the Champions Cup. Exeter have not shared their domestic form and dominance across Europe, with only one appearance in the quarterfinals in the 2015/16 season in a loss against Wasps. When you compare this solitary playoff appearance to an unbeaten run of 17 games in the Premiership last season, the two competitions results are worlds apart.
"We have let ourselves down in Europe for the last couple of seasons and it has to be a marker for us"
Rob Baxter’s comment above came immediately after his side lifted the Premiership trophy in May. Baxter spoke about his desire to avoid a drop in form following the club’s success, the Chiefs will be seeking to avoid their disappointing start to last season where they won only two of their first seven games.
There will be few tweaks to the champions side ahead of this season, but the addition of Wallaby scrum-half Nic White could make significant difference if Baxter has played his cards right. After challenging their strength in depth at scrum-half last season Exeter unearthed two young gems in Jack Maunder and Stuart Townsend, both of whom stepped seamlessly into the senior side from the academy. However, as well as these two young scrum-halfs performed, and as impressive as Will Chudley has been over the last 3 seasons, Nic White brings something they can not: test level experience. This level of exposure at the top flight of rugby is the one true area lacking at 9 for the Chiefs and may well make the difference in taking the fight to both Europe and the Premiership this season. Especially as Henry Slade seems to be edging to replace Chiefs stalwart Gareth Steenson, White's guidance from 9 will help Slade's development into the 10 jersey.
The Chiefs forwards pack well and truly deserves its place as champions. The addition of openside Matt Kvesic will be welcome for both player and club. Kvesic could well start behind Julian Salvi and Don Armand for the 7 jersey, but he has shown in the past he can be one of best breakdown forwards in the league. His desire to be utilised in a more attacking sense will suit Exeter down to the ground and may well see him break back into a regular starting XV.
Overall I think Chiefs’ new signings in addition to the discovery of impressive academy players will give them the depth and rotation options they will need to fight on two fronts this season. Given their first three games are against Gloucester, London Irish and Worcester Warriors they will hopefully be able to start their season with a few convincing wins before their first encounter with Wasps since beating them 23-20 in extra time in the final.
EXETER CHIEFS OPENING ROUNDS: Gloucester (A), London Irish (H), Worcester (A), Wasps (H)
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