advantage in the Premiership final against Saracens last year started to rear their head. But when they really needed to, Exeter’s defence held firm in the face of a 19-phase siege before Joe Simmonds’s last-minute penalty sealed the victory.
“This group of players have had a lot of heartache and they have never backed away or not kept fighting,” Baxter said. “I think it is a huge vindication for them of how they have kept working, kept fighting, kept trying, always looking to take the next step forward and today I think they have taken a huge one.”
It was cathartic for centre Slade, almost 12 months on from losing the World Cup final with England. “I was just thinking earlier actually, yesterday, that winning this would make me feel way better,” Slade said.
In many places this is being described as a fairy tale come true, written by the sons of farmers, trawlermen and butchers. Yet there is no secret supply of pixie dust at Sandy Park, but hard work by a group of excellent players. Man of the match Joe Simmonds, player of the tournament Sam Simmonds and second row Jonny Hill are playing the best rugby of any English players in their position, but indications are that they will not be included in Jones’s squad for the autumn matches. Go figure.
If there is a narrative it should be one of hope that any club with the right backing and especially the right coach can scale Everest.
Baxter, meanwhile, is already plotting the second leg of the double. You only hope he finds the time to savour his own personal accomplishment. “The game happened, the result happened and all those things happened, but now we are sitting in a quiet, concrete bowl and it doesn’t feel real,” Baxter said. “That’s probably what is holding back the reality which will probably come over the next couple of days.”