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'It's about the here and now' - Baxter looking past Exeter's history with Leinster

Last year’s Champions Cup winners have lost all four previous meetings with the province.

Leinster head coach Leo Cullen with Rob Baxter in 2017.
Leinster head coach Leo Cullen with Rob Baxter in 2017.
Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

EXETER CHIEFS ARE very much a team determined to focus on the present.

Circumstance has played its part in that, with last season’s Gallagher Premiership and Heineken Champions Cup double success quickly becoming old news as Covid disruption saw one campaign swiftly melt into the next, carrying with it the momentum of that historic achievement.

So it is perhaps no surprise that history won’t be weighing on their mind when Leo Cullen’s Leinster come to town this weekend.

Exeter’s history with Leinster is a recent one. They first met in this competition in the 2012 pool stages, and were paired together again in 2017/18, where Leinster would go on to win the tournament outright. Exeter’s record against a province who are chasing a record fifth European title reads played four, lost four.

Yet they head into this weekend’s quarter-final clash as the defending European champions. That, in the eyes of director of rugby Rob Baxter, is far more valuable than anything that came before it.

“You’ve got to get perspective and move on from history of seven, eight, nine, 10 years ago,” Baxter says.

“They were the first team we played in the Heineken Cup (2012) and there was a fair bit of underestimation from Leinster and they sneaked through 9-6 over in Ireland. 

Since then we’ve met a few times and they’ve come out on top. But we’ve moved on to a degree where in some ways, and I’m not saying we’re meeting on a level playing field, but it’s far more level than to talk about past history too much. 

“If we talked about history then Exeter would never be near the final of the Premiership or a European Cup. We’ve now won both. So it’s about the here and now, and the here and now is that we have an expectation to do well.”

Leinster go into the game on the back of a weekend off, advancing straight into the last eight following the cancellation of their round of 16 game against Toulon.

While the province could come into the game the fresher of the two as a result, Baxter says Exeter – who came from 14-0 down in the opening 10 minutes to beat Lyon 47-25 at the weekend – don’t feel at a disadvantage, citing the importance for his group in getting some gametime together following the Six Nations.

sam-skinner-dejected-after-the-game Exeter have lost all four of their previous meetings with Leinster. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

“Leinster will try to look at all the positives of their game being cancelled – the break will be good for them and they’ll be fresh, able to get over any bumps and bruises and niggling injuries from the week before,” Baxter added.

“On the flip side, we’re looking at it as a positive for us because if you look at our first 15 minutes against Lyon, we looked a little bit like a team that hadn’t played together. 

“We’ve hopefully got over that to give us a chance of having a better performance against Leinster. We’ll feel better for having a game out of the way, Leinster may have good reasons for having a break. It’s too early to tell. 

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“The Irish provinces do tend to have players coming and going in blocks after being away and tend to recover from that pretty quickly. The proof in the pudding will be Saturday.”

Baxter also explained that he is not surprised by the lay of the land heading into the last eight. France’s Top 14 is represented by five teams, with just two advancing from the English Premiership while Leinster fly the flag for the Pro14.

“I wasn’t actually surprised because I know how hard it’s been for us to get through in years gone. This is only our third quarter-final. So I know how hard it is to qualify. 

“When you get to the last eight of Europe, how many Premiership clubs should be there? We’ve got two there, a quarter of the clubs – it’s not a bad showing in a bad year. It doesn’t feel that strange to me.”

Screenshot 2020-11-24 at 9.04.07 AM

About the author:

Ciarán Kennedy

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