LONDON (Reuters) - Exeter Chiefs completed a momentous double when they beat Wasps 19-13 in a rain-lashed arm-wrestle of a Premiership final in a near-empty Twickenham on Saturday a week after winning the European Champions Cup.
In appalling conditions of relentless rain and swirling wind where the only noise in the 82,000-capacity ground came from the hyper-vocal squad members of both teams, the match featured two first-half tries but was eventually decided by the goalkicking of ice-cool 23-year-old Chiefs captain Joe Simmonds.
Exeter join Saracens, Wasps and Leicester as the fourth English team to complete the double.
It was their fifth successive appearance in the English club final and their second victory, after three defeats by Saracens and another win over Wasps in 2017. All in all, an amazing achievement for a club playing in the Championship 10 years ago.
After the craziest season in the history of the sport, its final English club game – taking place 56 weeks after the first - was suitably bizarre, played in horrendous conditions that made handling almost impossible.
Wasps came into the game on a remarkable run of 12 wins in 13 games but also without three probable starters due to COVID-19 issues.
They scored first with a Jimmy Gopperth penalty but Exeter then struck out of nowhere as centre Henry Slade dummied his way through the line after 18 minutes.
Wasps hit back with a similar flash of individual brilliance as flyhalf Jacob Umaga stepped past two defenders to score under the posts.
Exeter took the initiative again though, aware of the risk of losing lineouts in the rain, they twice opted for rare kicks at goal, both slotted by Simmonds to give them a 13-10 halftime lead.
Lima Sopoaga then came off the Wasps bench as replacement fullback and immediately produced a moment of magic, catching a ball in mid-air from off the pitch and launching a kick 60 metres upfield, leading to a penalty that Gopperth landed to make it 13-13 going into the last 20 minutes.
Simmonds then edged Exeter three points clear only for Wasps to give the Devon club a dose of their own medicine by marching a maul to within three metres of the line, only to be hauled down illegally.
They couldn’t make it pay, though as they lost the key lineout, and Exeter gradually took control and settled it with the captain’s fourth penalty in the final minute.
‘FINAL WORTH WINNING’
For head coach Rob Baxter, this week marked the extraordinary high point in his 33-years at Exeter.
“Now we can have a couple of days to let it sink in and feel real and the lads can really relish what they’ve achieved,” he said.
“It wasn’t easy, we had to work really hard and it was a fantastic performance by Wasps that made it a final worth winning.”
Of the remarkable rise of the club he joined as a colt and captained for 10 years, Baxter said: “We never put a timescale on it – (owner) Tony Rowe just said I want us to keep getting better.
“We probably got here a lot quicker than we thought but it’s been a lot of little steps. Now we’ll take a decent amount of time off and relish what we’ve achieved.”
After their disruptive build up it was eventually a step too far for Wasps but head coach Lee Blackett, who has turned the club around since taking over in February, said he was immensely proud of the team’s performance.
“We spoke about our character and our fight and the way we defended our line showed that,” he said. “We’re proud of what we’ve done this year, we’re disappointed as we came here to win but Exeter probably deserved the victory and Rob deserves all the plaudits he’s getting.”
Reporting by Mitch Phillips, editing by Christian Radnedge and Toby Davis
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