Exeter director of rugby Rob Baxter expressed his excitement for the club’s future after an era that ended with a 47-28 defeat in the Heineken Champions Cup semi-final to defending champions La Rochelle.
The defeat in Bordeaux was a farewell performance for several of Baxter’s frontline stars including Sam and Joe Simmonds, Jack Nowell, Stuart Hogg and Jannes Kirsten, unless they are picked for a Premiership match against London Irish on next weekend.
It wasn’t the send-off they dreamed of, as the French team scored seven tries in a dominating display, but Baxter preferred to think optimistically as they look ahead to the coming season.
“We have to look at the positives and we have to keep going,” Baxter said.
“Exeter Rugby Club will continue to play London Irish in the Premiership next weekend, we will continue to appear for the first game of next season and we have to carry on without these players.
“I am going to miss these guys because they are incredible players and I count some of them as lifelong friends of mine and we have done incredible things together. We’ve been on a journey together for 12, 13, 14 years with some of them, but I’m also looking forward to next year because I’d like to start a journey with some of these other players.
“It will be amazing to see guys like Will Becconsall, Tom Wyatt and Tom Cairns, guys that have just come into the team, and Christ Tshiunza, Daf Jenkins, it will be amazing to see these guys lift a trophy one day, and that’s what we have at What to focus on now.”
Baxter, who lost Scottish international lock Jonny Gray in the first half to a dislocated left knee, added: “For the first five or six minutes, we held them off, we showed great energy, we had good position on the field, we were brave and that I felt like it gave us a foundation in the game, but when you play against a really good team, if you make a mistake, you get punished, and I think that’s what happened.
“This will add layers of experience to some of our young guys who haven’t been here that long and haven’t played a lot of games for us.”
La Rochelle prepared a repeat of last year’s final against Leinster in the showpiece on May 20 in Dublin.
Head Coach Ronan O’Gara said: “It was the perfect time to come here. It’s important to leave your mark here but it’s not always possible to win a cup every season.
“We can’t guarantee anything, but as a leader it’s good to see my players live their values of respect and hard work and it’s a great brotherhood in La Rochelle at the moment.”
O’Gara also confirmed that the club will sign Exeter winger Nowell this summer.
He added: “I can’t confirm or deny it, but I think Jack is looking for a holiday home in La Rochelle… but it could just be for the summer!”