Champions Cup: Rob Baxter backs Exeter to ‘stick together’ as they look to upset La Rochelle

Adam Kyriacou
Rob Baxter Exeter Chiefs Premiership 2022 - PA.jpg

Exeter director of rugby Rob Baxter wants his team to relish the challenge of facing La Rochelle in their Champions Cup semi-final on Sunday.

The Chiefs will play at the 42,000-capacity Matmut Atlantique stadium this weekend as La Rochelle make the two-hour journey to Bordeaux for the game.

Exeter are the only English team left in the Champions Cup as their Premiership woes have been cushioned by the quarter-final victory over the Stormers.

But taking on La Rochelle in France will be even tougher for Baxter’s outfit, who beat them home and away in the 2019/20 European-winning year.

Need to get an awful lot right

La Rochelle have since become an outstanding side after backing up a runners-up spot with title glory one season later, with Baxter aware of their talents.

“They are a good team, and we are going to have to get an awful lot right and be massively resilient,” Baxter insisted ahead of Sunday’s semi-final meeting.

“They are going to land shots, and we just have to get up and get on with stuff and not get hurt by any one thing that happens. That consistent level of intensity across 80 minutes is always the key in big games.

“We are going very much to overturn the tables, which is a nice challenge for us and one we should be relishing and looking to enjoy.

“We’ve got a pretty good record against French teams, and we’ve got to back ourselves with that a little bit and get on with stuff. We’ve got some good firepower in the team.

“We went to La Rochelle and won in our cup-winning year and we won in Castres this season. Occasions in France are brilliant – players love them, they are incredible experiences.

“I think you either thrive on the atmosphere, or you don’t. Every game has an ebb and flow around it, and you have got to stick in there sometimes for a long time before you get the benefits of scores.”

It seems very much like the end of an era for Exeter at the close of the season, with brothers Joe and Sam Simmonds, and Stuart Hogg just a few leaving.

That feels as though it has added an extra slice of importance to the game from a Chiefs perspective as a final against Leinster or Toulouse is on the cards.

It’s a big game for the club

“We’ve got a collection of very good players. There is a lot of international quality in our team,” added Baxter.

“The team we take over has got plenty of caps in it, plenty of players who have won important games.

“It is a big game for the club. It feels like a very tight group that is working very hard to make this game successful.

“That is the key, that is how you look after each other, whether you are staying or going, and it feels like we have got that kind of vibe around the place at the moment.

“They are going to come at us, and there are going to be times when we are going to have to weather it, stick together and hold our discipline, hold our work-rate and not take a breath.

“You stay in the fight when it is their moments, and then you take yours when it is your time. There is no way of dressing it up.”

READ MORE: La Rochelle v Exeter Chiefs: Champions Cup preview as Jonathan Danty-less holders to keep title defence alive