Ollie Atkins believes he and his Exeter Chiefs team-mates have been given the perfect stage on which to shine ahead of Sunday’s Anglo-Welsh Cup Final against Leicester Tigers at the Twickenham Stoop (3pm).
The Australian lock helped lead from the front as the Chiefs secured a third successive final appearance thanks to Sunday’s 24-7 home win over Harlequins.
Tries from Lachie Turner, Max Bodilly, Julian Salvi and Sam Simmonds did much of the damage for the Devon club, whose remaining points came courtesy of the boot of young fly-half Joe Simmonds.
Leicester, meanwhile, were equally impressive in their own last four encounter, defeating defending champions Saracens 32-10 at Allianz Park.
Now, the two will lock horns in the capital this weekend and Atkins is well aware of the threat posed by the rival Tigers.
“We know what is coming at us, but we’re looking forward to the challenge, up front especially,” said the 28-year-old. “It’s where they pride themselves, so we’ll have a crack at them there.”
With the Chiefs having tasted defeated only twice in all competitions since the end of October, both times to French opposition in the European Champions Cup, confidence within the camp is high heading into the first showpiece final of the season.
“It’s a very happy changing room at the moment,” added Atkins. “We’ve been planning this for a while and the boys have been putting in some phenomenal performances in the Anglo-Welsh Cup. Now, this is their chance to shine on the big stage.
“Across the whole squad we have some fantastic players and that’s helping to breed competition amongst us all. Each week whichever team is picked, the boys are going out there and delivering big performances and it’s driving us forward as a squad.
“You only have to look at the way some of the younger guys have really stepped up to appreciate how strong the squad is. The Simmonds brothers, Max Bodilly on the wing, you wouldn’t even realise they are young guys, because they are playing such fantastic rugby.
“Stu Townsend is playing world class at the moment and him and [Jack] Maunder have got a great thing going at the moment. Although we’re down one or two guys, they are taking their chance and they are having a great time of it.”
And more of the same will be expected on Sunday as the Chiefs look to replicate their success of 2014, when they lifted the Anglo-Welsh prize for the first time against Northampton Saints.
“It would be fantastic if we could do that again,” added Atkins, who recently penned a new two-year deal with the Chiefs. “The Anglo-Welsh Cup wasn’t there last season, but it’s something a lot of players have really looked forward to this season.
“It’s great obviously for the young players to get involved with, but for others – myself included – it’s a great competition to get game time and show the coaches what we can do as well.
“As I said, we can’t wait for the weekend and hopefully come the end on Sunday we’ll be the team lifting the cup.”
Tickets and coach travel for the game are still available at Sandy Park until lunchtime on Wednesday, after which match tickets can be bought direct online.