Exeter boss Rob Baxter was left to reflect on what might have been after seeing his team’s European Champions Cup defence ended by Leinster.
The holders were knocked out after tournament heavyweights Leinster won a titanic quarter-final 34-22 at Sandy Park.
English representation ended
Leinster remain on course for a record fifth European title, consigning the Chiefs to a last-eight exit as English representation in this season’s competition ended.
“We had a great first 10 minutes, then the momentum shifted away for a fair chunk of time,” Baxter said.
“Half-time let us just settle down, and we started the second half really well and got ourselves right back into contention.
“The bigger story of the game – and you have got to give Leinster credit – was they kept an intensity in most areas that meant we never really settled, and that’s great credit to them and probably a little frustrating from us.
“You could probably see the times when we just went off-script, and we started going from side to side and got turned over. Three or four times we got in really good shape, we scored tries.
“And I think that is the thing that will frustrate us the most when we review the game. When we actually played, we created quite a lot of pressure on Leinster.
“A lot of that is credit to Leinster, but some of it we will be very frustrated and disappointed about. The moments added up.
“Normally, we would like to say we are the team that creates that pressure in most areas and it adds up for us, but today it added up for Leinster.”
Only Leinster, Leicester, Toulon and Saracens have successfully defended the European Cup in its 26-year history.
And that sizeable task proved beyond Exeter as their Irish conquerors triumphed through Jordan Larmour’s try double, his fellow wing James Lowe’s first-half touchdown, plus 17 points from Ross Byrne.
Byrne replaced Leinster and Ireland captain Johnny Sexton, who kicked an early conversion but went off in the 28th minute before failing a head injury assessment.
Exeter led by 14 points inside the first 10 minutes following two tries by wing Tom O’Flaherty, both converted by Joe Simmonds, but their only further scores were a Dave Ewers try and Simmonds penalty as Leinster’s imperious European pedigree was once again shown off to maximum effect.
Baxter added: “The last 20 minutes were frustrating because we went into chase-the-game-down mode with a scoreboard that said it didn’t need to be done.
“This was only our third quarter-final – I think it was Leinster’s 16th. You have to keep going and keep going at it.
“I have got a very disappointed changing room in there.”
Leinster will be joined by three French teams in the last four after they moved a step closer to another possible European crown.
☘️ Leinster moved a step closer to a record fifth title.
— Planet Rugby (@PlanetRugby) April 10, 2021
Leinster head coach Leo Cullen, who confirmed that Sexton will follow graduated return to play protocols, said: “We had a shaky start, which we did in our last (European) quarter-final (against Saracens).
“But the players showed enormous composure, and it was a great squad effort to get there today.
“Ross Byrne was so composed all the way through – he steered us around the field – and was excellent after he went on.”