Exeter Chiefs’ stunning season continued as they recorded one of the biggest victories in their history and secured maximum points at home to French giants Clermont Auvergne, leaving head coach Rob Baxter delighted to keep their Champions Cup fate in their own hands.
After an opening European defeat to Ospreys, Baxter’s side – currently second in Aviva Premiership Rugby –had managed three straight victories in all competitions, and kept that streak going with a 31-14 win at Sandy Park.
Trailing 14-10 at the break, Thomas Waldrom, Don Armand and Mitch Lees all went over for tries in the second half as the Chiefs scored 21 unanswered points to climb to the top of Pool 2.
Clermont held an early 14-3 lead after Hosea Gear and Aurelien Rougerie crossed for the visitors, but Waldrom’s first try of the afternoon five minutes before the break started the fightback.
And, with a return trip to France up next week, Baxter is relieved his side still can control their own destiny from the summit of Pool 2.
“The nice thing is that three years ago we were well beaten by Clermont but now we have won an important Champions Cup match and give ourselves an opportunity to make next Sunday a big occasion,” he said.
“This win possibly keeps the pool alive after next week’s match because around 17 or 18 points things could still happen for you. We have ten points now with three games remaining and things are starting to get interesting.
“We are at the top of the pool now and it is up to us to fight for it and keep it. So things are in our hands which is a nice place to be. We are immensely proud to be playing in the Champions Cup against teams like Clermont Auvergne.
“That is what we worked really hard to be in the Aviva Premiership Rugby for and what we worked hard to get into this European competition for. It’s for nights like this one and I think that we have made the most of the occasion.”
Elsewhere there was more good news for the Aviva Premiership Rugby sides as Leicester Tigers notched up a brilliant away victory at Munster.
Two quick-fire first-half tries stunned Thomond Park and turned the game in the visitors’ favour, as both Vereniki Goneva and Mike Fitzgerald went over just before the break.
Ben Youngs then charged across the whitewash after Sean Cronin had touched down to get Munster back in the contest, meaning Mike Sherry's late try was little more than a consolation for the hosts.
That makes it three Champions Cup wins from three for Leicester, and it was the first time Munster have failed to collect even a losing bonus point in Europe, but Tigers director of rugby Richard Cockerill is adamant there is still work to do to ensure his side progress.
He said: “It's only the third of the pool stage so we haven't won anything yet or even qualified but not many teams come here and win in Europe and I'm delighted for the team.
“Munster played very well and there was a prior at the start of the second half when they scored eight points pretty quickly. It was a four-point game and we needed to get ourselves a foothold back into it.
“So it was very important we scored next. The try by Ben Youngs was pretty pivotal and he took it very well. It's all about finding a way to win games and this team learns it's lessons quickly.
“We want to celebrate a good win for the club but we can't get ahead of ourselves. Next week is another massive game for both teams.”
However, it was a different story for Northampton Saints as they were humbled by a stunning Racing 92 performance, with World Cup winner Dan Carter impressing on his debut for the French side.
JJ Hanrahan’s penalty was all Jim Mallinder’s side could manage after Henry Chavancy and Eddy Ben Arous had registered early tries for Racing.
But rather than kicking on from there Northampton shipped another three tries, and director of rugby Jim Mallinder could only hold his hands up after the game.
“I'm not that worried about the score – clearly we got well beaten,” he said. “There are lots of little bits of our game that we need to work on, a bit of accuracy.
“The scrum went well again, it stood up against a massive pack. Our line-outs we won some good ball from it.
“I just think we need to be a little more accurate in terms of what we do off it and defensively, we've just got to be more physical against such a big side.”
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