Exeter 28-18 Toulouse: Chiefs reach first Champions Cup final with emphatic victory over French giants
- Toulouse started well and scored through two Thomas Ramos penalties
- Tries from Harry Williams and Sam Simmonds gave Exeter a half-time lead
- A second try from Williams and one from Joe Simmonds sealed the victory
Rugby royalty dethroned, now Exeter are eyeing a first European crown after an emphatic evisceration of Toulouse.
The four-time continental champions were left strewn in bits across the west country after the demolition men had been in and dented their souls.
Harry Williams scored twice with Sam and Joe Simmonds – the boys from Teignmouth – making sure it was jam today at last for the Chiefs, who are now the cream not just of Devon but England and possibly now Europe too.
Joe Simmonds (left) celebrates with brother Sam Simmonds after scoring the fourth try
In the sensational barrage the French superstars were left dazzled by a lilac-shirted licking. They scored two tries – from Alban Placines and Matthis Lebel – but were well-beaten.
Exeter could barely have dreamt of making a European Cup final 25 years ago when the competition began.
As Toulouse won the first European Cup in 1996 Exeter were battling out of Courage League Division 4 against the likes of Redruth, Walsall and Aspatria, and by the time rugby’s most regal club had their fourth title, the Chiefs were promoted the same week to the Premiership for the first time.
But now on level-footing Exeter were always going to have a right old go at it.
Harry Williams (hidden) scores Exeter’s first try during the Champions Cup semi-final
Domestically, no one can cope with Chiefs’ power game, but a Toulouse pack full of giants was bound to test them.
In the first 20 minutes the French started the assault. Big, bruising behemoths never stopped charging on, with nippy No 9 Antoine Dupont sniffing to provide the boy-band backline with space.
Exeter could not cope for a while. They did well just to concede two penalties, both kicked by Thomas Ramos before finding their feet in a game they had never experienced before.
It was then you thought they needed their crowd. This place would have been jumping, rocking and roaring with Devon hordes – cider sloshing everywhere – in the west country sun.
Sam Simmonds crosses over for the second Exeter try shortly before half-time
But alas, empty to the paying public, Exeter had to invite every partisan ball-boy, bouncy-castle blower-upper, kit-man and cleaner to make the din instead. They did when the whistle started to blow Chiefs’ way. A key scrum penalty five metres from their line had them on their feet.
It formed the first Exeter attack. Up they went in stages, and by the half-hour mark they had a try.
Joe Simmonds put Tom O’Flaherty in a hole and with momentum Chiefs went rumbling left. After five phases it was Williams who took the try.
Simmonds converted, but Toulouse responded. Exeter were doing well to keep Cheslin Kolbe – he of the fastest feet in the west – quiet, but the World Cup winning Springbok broke on the right and Toulouse were in.
Jonny Gray (centre) celebrates as team mate Harry Williams scores his second try
Chiefs scrambled back but bunched in allowing the French to fizz left all the way to substitute Placines who scored on the left wing having just come on for the injured Rory Arnold.
Crucially, it felt at the time, Ramos missed the conversion and Exeter rose again. If rugby was exclusively played five metres from the line the Chiefs would never lose again.
And to get there again they needed nifty work from Henry Slade and Jack Nowell on the right to provide the opening. Then a penalty. Luke Cowan-Dickie tapped-and-went, crunching forward, and Sam Simmonds then finished it off with his brother converting for a three-point lead at the break.
Exeter would need more. Toulouse to this stage had only conceded a total of 19 points in seven second-halves during this stilted tournament.
Never had they seen seven slip past after half-time, until Williams took his second from closer range than the first after the TMO confirmed he had touched down, and fly-half Simmonds had converted.
Now 10 points up with 15 minutes to go, Exeter dared to dream.
And when Joe Simmonds jinked in for their fourth and converted it was all becoming a glorious reality.
Toulouse took a consolation from Lebel with five minutes left, which Ramos converted, but it was all too late.
The Tomahawk choppers had taken an axe to them, and now at Ashton Gate in three weeks only Racing 92 stand between them and the throne.
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