Exeter Chiefs are the new champions of Europe.
The men from Sandy Park completed their meteoric rise over a decade, climbing from the Championship into the Premiership.
And now they are the proud holders of the Heineken Champions Cup after they defeated French side Racing 92 31-27 in a compelling final played at the Ashton Gate, Bristol.
There were no Chiefs fans in the ground owing to the on-going pandemic, but those that will have watched the game in pubs, clubs, and sitting rooms, the length and breadth of East Devon will no doubt have bitten their nails as the clocked ticked down to signal a wonderful success.
The Chiefs made a superb and flying start to the contest and raced into an early 14-0 lead thanks to tries from Luke Cowan-Dickie and Sam Simmonds with Joe Simmonds slotting both conversions.
The French side struck back with a brace of tries and one conversion to close the gap to just two points.
However, a minute before the half-time Chiefs’ prop Harry Williams powered over and another Simmonds kick sent the Sandy Park men into the break with a 21-12 lead.
There was an equally dramatic start to the second half with Racing scoring an early concerted try to make it 21-19.
Chiefs were soon back on the front foot and Jack Nowell intercepted a pass and turned the ball inside for England team mate Henry Slade to cross for a try, and a third successful Joe Simmonds kick sent Chiefs back into a nine-point lead.
The French side then stepped up their game and scored the eighth try of a fascinating contest and then, when they got a penalty, it was suddenly what is known in the sport as a ‘one-point game’.
Both teams turned to their respective benches to send on fresh legs and new power, play was end-to-end and when Chiefs’ replacement prop Tomas Francis received a yellow card and headed for the sin bin after a ‘deliberate knock-on’ with just eight minutes to play, it looked a tough task for the Chiefs to hang on.
But hang on they did, and with some interest too, as they resisted manfully, at one stage after a number of phases of defence on their line and, the pressure was eased when they won a turnover.
The ball was cleared and then, as the clock ticked into the 79th minute, Chiefs were awarded a penalty.
Young Joe Simmonds spotted the ball and sent it flying between the uprights.
There was still time for more drama as referee Nigel Owens debated with the TMO as to at what precise time the kick had dissected the posts.
After a short chat, the final whistle was blown and Exeter Chiefs were European champions!
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