Rob Baxter vs Wasps
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Ryan Darby

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Rob Baxter OBE in conversation with Carparison 

From guiding the club to promotion as a player, to lifting European Rugby’s biggest prize, there is very little that Rob Baxter hasn't achieved at Exeter Chiefs.

As our official Carparison brand ambassador, we asked Rob to guide us through five of his fondest memories, both from his playing days and now as a coach.

If you would like to listen to the full interview, where he answers questions from fans, explains why defeats can create his proudest memories and what the future holds for the Chiefs, head to our YouTube channel.

*We apologise in advance for the varying audio quality, we had arranged to have a video call with Rob, but unfortunately some technical gremlins had other plans!

Securing promotion at Reading - 1996/97

As a player, Baxter captained the Chiefs to promotion out of the Courage League Division 3. Throughout the campaign, the Chiefs enjoyed a 16-game winning run before securing promotion on the final day with a win away at Reading. 

He explains why this was such an important period for both him and the club, “I tried to pick five moments that were top moments throughout my career for different reasons. That first one was a little bit selfish from obviously playing in it and being captain. It was a huge moment for the club, we probably didn’t realise it at the time, how big of a moment it was until you look back at where we are now.

“That for us was the first step and I was very proud to be captain in the team that achieved that.”

Exeter Chiefs celebrate vs Wasps

Exeter Chiefs players celebrate promotion from the Championship - Image Credit: Exeter Rugby Club

Play-off drama vs Bristol - 2009/10

The 2009/10 season provided plenty of drama for the Chiefs, who secured promotion to the Premiership with a play-off win against Bristol.

A memorable performance from Gareth Steenson helped the Chiefs to a 38-16 win on aggregate, but Baxter reveals nerves did get the better of him during the second leg, “Probably as bad as I can ever remember. People ask me, what’s the one game that make the hair stand up on the back of your neck, it’s this game.

“We won the first leg at home by three points and I remember everyone saying it wouldn’t be enough. But I remember watching the game, it was one of the most physical games of rugby I’ve ever seen and it gave us a lot of confidence that we could certainly match them physically.

“Then going up to Bristol was such an incredible experience. The moment I got on the bus at Exeter, you could tell it was going to be an amazing thing. The whole atmosphere was just electric. It was certainly a night befitting of a team getting promoted and taking that huge step.”

Beating Gloucester in the first 2010/11 Premiership game

Just over 9,500 people were at Sandy Park to witness the first Premiership game of the season. 

After achieving promotion, Baxter recalls how he and his coaching staff were keen to hit the ground running in the top flight.

“The truth is, we probably should’ve lost. We played well enough to keep them under a fair bit of pressure. They didn’t just score two or three tries to take the pressure off themselves, they were struggling to score, they were struggling to play against us.

“We didn’t dominate any one particular area of the game, but we did what we said we would do. We worked really, really hard, we weren’t going to give Gloucester anything easy. If we had the chance to play, we were going to play.

“Because we collected some winning points, very quickly we put pressure on other teams. There are always two or three teams that go into the next season with the aim of not being relegated. To me that always felt strange because we have never taken that approach. We never talked about relegation.

“It was fantastic for us [to beat Gloucester]. The big thing you’ve got to do as a coach or a leader, it’s not about telling people what to do. The reality is you’ve got to give people a why and what we’ve managed to do here as a coaching group is we’ve managed to get in front of players and say ‘this is why we need to do it.’” 

Rob Baxter standing

Right: Rob Baxter celebrates winning the Aviva Premiership - Image Credit: Exeter Rugby Club

Winning the 2016/17 Premiership title

After suffering defeat to Saracens in the previous season, the Chiefs faced Wasps at Twickenham seeking vengeance during the 2016/17 campaign.

Following a dramatic semi-final win against Saracens, Baxter says guiding the Chiefs to their first Premiership trophy was one of his most satisfying achievements, “I think my biggest memory of it and the most satisfying thing from a coaching perspective is getting back there after the season before and in the way we got there.

“I think to know we hadn’t shown our best was good for us, because that following year when we did win it, we had a real bit of grit about us.

“We draw Saracens at our place. Saracens are reigning European and Premiership champions and it was an absolute humdinger of a game. We won it in the last play with one of the most incredible experiences I’ve seen at Sandy Park.

“To throw it in at the end like that was a massive outpour of emotion. I remember kind of thinking to myself ‘jeez, we’ve got to get our feet on the ground, don’t have a season like last season.’ I remember getting on the pitch and just trying to grab the players - who were obviously very happy - and just thinking, ‘come on, we’ve got to get off the pitch and get our heads down. We can enjoy tonight but we’ve got to win a final’.

“To experience that and then go into the Wasps game and it be like the game it was, with so many emotional highs and lows. Us taking the lead, them taking the lead, us fighting back to be drawing late in the game, going into extra time. The way we played in extra time was fantastic, we dominated and controlled possession and we win the game. It was something very special.”

Rob Baxter holding trophies

Rob Baxter celebrates Exeter Chiefs winning the double - Image Credit: Exeter Rugby Club

Winning the Heineken Cup Final vs Racing 92

Exeter Chiefs’ journey to the pinnacle of European rugby was complete in October 2020, when the club lifted the Heineken Cup.

In what was an incredibly tense affair at Ashton Gate, a 31-27 win against Racing 92 sparked emotional scenes among the Chiefs squad.

However, Baxter was noticeably calm and reflective amid the euphoria erupting around him, “To be honest, after the game it wasn’t something I wanted to jump up and down and sing about.

“I remember I got caught on camera, I was just looking at the guys and being so happy for them. I watched what they had done all season and how hard they worked. They’ve had some of the biggest games of their lives. European semi-finals and finals, without their families and loved ones there and they’d won it. They’d done it themselves and they deserved it. I just felt so proud of them. 

“From a club perspective, it was a bit, wow, there you go, it can be done. The hard work has all been worth it. It was a funny feeling.

“All of those things have been those next chapters. Winning the Premiership for the first time was a big chapter in the club’s history. Moving on and winning the Heineken Cup ticked another huge box because I know the players had targeted European success for a couple of years.”

Stay tuned to Carparison socials for more exclusive content from Rob Baxter and Exeter Chiefs.

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