Stade Français v Exeter Chiefs, 7:45pm, Sky Sports 4
Cast your minds back to September 2010, and the future for Exeter Chiefs was uncertain. Promoted to the Aviva Premiership for the first time and with a squad filled with players who were either unknown or had only been on the fringes for previous employers, staying up appeared unlikely. However, the Chiefs started that campaign with a bang defeating Gloucester at home, before doing the same this season by winning away at the indomitable Welford Road on the first day.
It was a win that kickstarted what has been a spectacular season for Exeter so far. 5th in the league and within three points of a playoff position, tonight they face European powerhouse Stade Français in the Amlin Challenge Cup quarter final in Paris. It is a rise unlike any other and no one is prouder of the progress made than prop Hoani Tui.
Speaking on Tuesday before the Chiefs departed, Tui summed up the mood in the camp as very excited. “We’ve had a short turnaround since playing London Irish on Saturday, but the boys have quickly got over their bumps and bruises. We haven’t experienced this kind of game before so we’re going to take the bull by the horns and enjoy it.”
Although they will not be playing at the 80,000 seater Stade de France, playing in Paris will be a new experience for the former Waikato Chiefs and Calvisano forward, although some of the opposition will be familiar to the Exeter players meaning they will not be journeying completely into the unknown.
“We’ve played against some of their players like Felipe Contepomi, Paul Williams and Sergio Parisse so we’ve got a feeling of how they will play and how we can stop them.”
Hopefully we’ll get a lot of support out there in Paris, because our fans are fantastic and often drown out the home crowd when we play away.”
Tui recently penned a new two year deal to stay with the Chiefs, which will take him to five years playing at Sandy Park. “The whole family is really happy here in Exeter, feeling very settled after three great years. I’m still young in prop terms at the age of 27 so I’ve got a lot left to work on, and I felt that staying here and working with the Exeter coaches was the right pace to improve.”
Often for a good club to become a great one, it takes a small amount of important factors to make them stand out above the rest.
For Tui down at Sandy Park, the ethos created by Chairman Tony Rowe and the whole coaching staff, spearheaded by Rob Baxter, makes the Devon club truly stand out.
“The core of our side hasn’t changed too much over the last couple of years, but when we’ve made additions they’ve been of real quality which has helped strengthen any weaknesses. I know every side says it, but the team atmosphere here is really special. The coaches work hard to make sure we operate in a comfortable and enjoyable environment, so which creates that real urge to train hard all the time. It’s a huge family-orientated club and a lot of that is down to Tony Rowe and the emphasis on bringing all the player’s families together, and I think that’s a big selling point for any players who join.”
As for whether Exeter would rather establish themselves as a Premiership juggernaut by reaching the playoffs or taste success in Europe, Tui sums up the club’s growing ambitions perfectly. “We’ll take both!”
by Ben Coles
Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images