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European Champions Cup: Exeter beat Racing 92 31-27 to lift first Champions Cup title

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Exeter win Champions Cup
Exeter and Racing 92 were both attempting to lift their first Champions Cup title
Exeter (21) 31
Tries: Cowan-Dickie, S Simmonds, Williams, Slade Cons: J Simmonds 4 Pen: J Simmonds
Racing 92 (12) 27
Tries: Zebo 2, Imhoff, Chat Cons: Russell, Machenaud Pen: Machenaud

Exeter Chiefs had just enough to keep Racing 92 at bay to clinch their first Champions Cup title in a thrilling final at Ashton Gate.

Luke-Cowan Dickie, Sam Simmonds and Harry Williams barged over to give Exeter a nine-point lead at the break.

But Racing roared back with Simon Zebo’s second try and Camille Chat’s surge bringing them within a point.

Exeter, down to 14 men after Tomas Francis’ late yellow card, held out heroically to lift the title.

A breathless final 10 minutes featured Racing hammering through the phases within five metres of the line, Exeter replacement Sam Hidalgo-Clyne securing a turnover under the shadow of own posts and Joe Simmonds landing a penalty with the last act of the match.

Even then the drama was not over.

The match clock initially showed that three seconds remained for Racing to restart and mount a final assault. However, after consulting with his team officials, Owens confirmed that the clock had not restarted when Simmonds was lining up his penalty and that he could blow up to spark delirious celebrations.

The victory marks the culmination of a remarkable decade for Exeter, who won promotion to the Premiership for the first time back in 2010 in a play-off match across Bristol at the city’s Memorial Stadium.

They will attempt to complete a double next weekend when they take on Wasps in the Premiership final.

Styles make matches

The clash of styles was clear as soon as the teams emerged into a coronavirus-enforced empty Ashton Gate.

Racing 92 trotted onto the pitch wearing pink bow-ties, in a nod to the Parisians’ fast-living free-running past.

Exeter marched out in business-like fashion, grim-faced and forward looking, through a gauntlet of their replacements and backroom staff.

Racing brought bursts of colour and panache, but the Chiefs’ mastery of close-range trench warfare ultimately kept them one step ahead throughout a thrilling contest.

Racing scrum-half Teddy Iribaren had the chance to give his side an early platform. Instead he screwed a penalty dead as he aimed for the corner and five minutes later Cowan-Dickie forced his way through the middle of a driven maul for the first try.

Iribaren’s eccentricities continued as he passed blind to put Juan Imhoff under pressure before Russell juggled in his own in-goal area. Racing put themselves under pressure and Exeter gleefully pressed them beyond breaking point.

Sam Simmonds barged through opposite number Antonie Claassen at the end of a series of short-range bursts from his fellow forwards.

Fourteen points ahead with only 16 minutes gone, Exeter chairman Tony Rowe looked like he was struggling to keep his delight in check in the stands.

But Racing refused to go quietly.

Russell’s cut-out pass tempted Tom O’Flaherty out of position and opened a route to the corner for Zebo before Imhoff ghosted through the fringe defence to cut the gap to two points.

Harry Williams crossed on the stroke of half-time for Chiefs but Zebo, out of contract next summer, showed his quality with another powerful finish to keep the French side within a score early in the second half.

Ultimately though, Racing’s errors undermined their brilliance.

Two minutes after Zebo’s second, with the momentum with the French side, Scotland fly-half Russell threw a looping mis-pass just outside his own 22m. It could have sprung a counter-attack. Instead it was picked off by an alert Jack Nowell who put Henry Slade under the posts.

That score moved Exeter to 28 points, a total Racing could never overhaul despite Chat’s bulldozing try and their late pressure.

Line-ups

Exeter: Hogg; Nowell, Slade, Whitten, O’Flaherty; J Simmonds (capt), Maunder; Hepburn, Cowan-Dickie, Williams, Gray, Hill, Ewers, Vermeulen, S Simmonds.

Replacements: Yeandle, Moon, Francis, Skinner, Kirsten, Hidalgo-Clyne, Steenson, Devoto.

Racing 92: Zebo; Dupichot, Vakatawa, Chavancy (capt), Imhoff; Russell, Iribaren; Ben Arous, Chat, Colombe, Le Roux, Bird, Lauret, Sanconnie, Claassen.

Replacements: Baubigny, Kolingar, Oz, Ryan, Palu, Machenaud, Klemenczak, Beale.

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