Free to play: Rooster Radley the victor at NRL Judiciary

Sydney Roosters lock Victor Radley is free to take on Brisbane on Thursday night following a successful night against the NRL judiciary.

Appearing via a video link, Radley avoided a one-match ban after successfully challenging a grade-one dangerous throw charge on Tuesday night.

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Roosters claim their first win of the season against the Rabbitohs

NRL: The reigning premiers proved to be too good for the Latrell Mitchell led Rabbitohs as the Roosters claimed their first win of the season with a 26-12 win.

The classy utility forward was hit with the charge for a lifting tackle on South Sydney winger Dane Gagai late in the first half of the Roosters’ 28-12 win over the Rabbitohs last Saturday night.

Earlier, Storm forwards Nelson Asofa-Solomona and Tino Fa’asuamaleaui both accepted dangerous contact charges.

Asofa-Solomona was charged for an incident involving Raiders prop Dunamis Lui in the 13th minute of the Storm’s loss in Round 3. He could not reduce the one-match ban with an early guilty plea.

Fa’asuamaleaui avoided a one-game ban with an early plea.

Warriors forward Agnatius Paasi accepted a one-match ban for dangerous conduct.

Broncos centre Kotoni Staggs will miss one match after entering an early plea for grade-two careless high tackle on Eels five-eighth Dylan Brown in their loss on Thursday.

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Originally published asFree to play: Rooster Radley the victor at NRL Judiciary

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Kyle Flanagan ‘shattered’ for former Sharks teammate Bronson Xerri over drug scandal

A shocked Kyle Flanagan says he’s been left “shattered” by close friend Bronson Xerri’s positive drug test to performance-enhancing substances.

Flanagan and Xerri have been best mates since childhood, having played together from a young age at the Aquinas Colts right through to Cronulla in the NRL last year.

They also spent part of the coronavirus shutdown training together at sprint camps, despite Flanagan’s off-season move to Sydney Roosters.

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Dangerous Dugan snags double

NRL: Cronulla Sharks’ centre Josh Dugan crossed the chalk twice in the first half of his sides clash with Wests Tigers. The Sharks led the Tigers 16-10 at halftime.

Flanagan said on Friday night he had reached out to his former Sharks teammate given their close relationship, but had not spoken to him properly. “I’m shattered and still in shock,” Flanagan said.

“I don’t want to comment on it too much because I will let him do his thing.

“I haven’t had any contact with him. I tried to reach out with some support as a mate.

“But I know my focus is on the Roosters and bring success to the Roosters.

“But yeah, I’m shattered.” Flanagan made an “X” mark with his arms after he scored in the Roosters’ win over South Sydney on Friday night, in a symbol many took as a show of support for Xerri.

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There had been every chance the pair could reunite at the Roosters in coming seasons, after Xerri knocked back a five-year deal at the Sharks.

Flanagan showed no signs of the disruptive week in Friday’s win, as his combination with James Tedesco and Luke Keary continued to gel. But for now, Xerri’s future looks far more bleak, with a possible four-year ban hanging over his head if found guilty.

Kyle Flanagan beat the Rabbitohs on Friday night.Source:AAP

He remains provisionally stood down as ASADA continue their investigations into a cocktail of banned substances found in his system last November. The results of the B-sample will likely take weeks, while the star centre’s phone was initially seized but has since been returned.

Meanwhile the NRL have now confirmed they are satisfied with ASADA’s reasoning of why it took six months to notify them and Xerri about the positive test. Xerri was only told on Tuesday that he would be provisionally suspended, just two days before the season’s resumption.

Kyle Flanagan and Bronson Xerri sprint training at Centennial Park.Source:News Corp Australia

The issue prompted questions from several current and former players, as the NRL also contacted the doping agency over the delay.

They were notably puzzled following the fast turnaround to stand down James Segeyaro during last year’s finals after a positive test for Ligandrol last year.

But interim NRL chief executive Andrew Abdo said he had heard back from the agency and was satisfied with the explanation.

“ASADA is an independent organisation. We have written to them and asked to understand the process and time it has taken,” Abdo told Triple M.

“They have responded and we are satisfied with the response we have received.

“But obviously this is a difficult time for Bronson.

“It was just an understanding of the process that was taking place. It’s obviously a really sensitive matter and not something we can talk about.”

Originally published asFlanagan ‘shattered’ for former Sharks teammate Xerri over drug scandal

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Rugby Retro: Jamie Roberts on British and Irish Lions third Test 2013

Wales centre Jamie Roberts revisits 2013’s British and Irish Lions third Test series decider against Australia in the latest Rugby Retro.

Ahead of the Lions tour of 2013, there had been calls for the famous invitational side to be scrapped but under Warren Gatland, the tourists went out and sealed a 2-1 series win over the Wallabies – their first since victory in South Africa in 1997 – winning the decider 41-16.

Roberts, who became a Lion in 2009 in South Africa, was one of the try scorers that day in Sydney in 2013, and recounts it as one of the best occasions in his career.

“I spent the last 10/15 minutes on the bench, because I scored a try and immediately after came off the pitch,” Roberts told Sky Sports.

“I got to enjoy it with the lads and staff at the side of the pitch knowing we’d won. There was no way Australia were going to score 30 unanswered points.

“It was an amazing quarter of an hour to take it all in. The Olympic Stadium in Sydney was full and it was a very, very special time in my career, no doubt about that, and a special time for the Lions.

“When I think of the emotion of that changing room after that game, I switch back to four years earlier to Loftus Versfeld in South Africa, and the contrast was completely polarised.

“I find it hard to describe. Four years earlier, there was not a word said in that dressing room for a good 20 minutes and there was tears.

“Fast forward to Sydney and we’ve got James Bond – Daniel Craig – popping bottles with the lads, jumping up and down for about half an hour.

“That contrast for me, sums up rugby. It was just a very special week.”

With Alex Corbisiero, Johnny Sexton and George North having scored tries to put the Lions in a commanding position, Roberts put the cherry on the cake when he sliced through on a textbook run to dive over.

“It’s a line I’d run thousands of times in my career, not just in games but in training,” he says. “And 90 per cent of the time I’d get absolutely levelled by two defenders.

“For it to open up on the biggest stage of all for a rugby player was dream-come-true stuff.

“Everyone ran their lines really well to sit the defence down and it just parted. To be honest with you, I can’t really remember the rest.

“It was one of those moments, I ran over, put the ball down and it felt like I’d jumped into a swimming pool.

“There was just no sound, everything just went deadly silent. It was kind of really strange to experience that.

“I don’t score many tries and I’ve not experienced anything like that in my career, it was pretty special.”

That try, the Test victory and series win was all the more special for Roberts because he came perilously close to missing out on it all due to injury.

In fact, the odds were firmly stacked against him to be involved that day.

“I got injured the week before the first Test, my hamstring against the Waratahs, and I thought my tour was over.

“To this day I’m hugely grateful to the medical team, to Doc Robson and Prav Mathema [Lions physio], for having faith and keeping me on tour.

“It was a Grade 2 hamstring tear, probably should have taken five or six weeks, but they managed to turn me round in two and a half.

“And they told me straight away: ‘We need you training by the Thursday of the third Test week.’

“I knew that I was going to have to play through a bit of pain with this. When you tear a hamstring like that, it’s never going to be 100 per cent if you’re playing within three weeks. I knew it was a balancing act.

“Here I was trying to balance that this is arguably the biggest game of my career vs am I going to be a hindrance on the team if I’m not fully fit?

“Gats (Warren Gatland) came up to me on the Thursday morning and said: ‘Right, are you ready?’ And it was a straight: ‘Yeah.’

“We sat in the team meeting room and Warren just got straight to it. The lads sit down and he gets out the team on a piece of paper and starts reading it.

“You could have been in a little club game in mid-Wales somewhere playing for the fourth team, it felt like that. It didn’t feel like a third, deciding Test in a Lions series!”

Roberts was one of the names on that piece of paper, lining out at inside-centre. But the headline news ahead of that third Test was the omission of one Brian O’Driscoll.

It was and remains the only time O’Driscoll was dropped in the entirety of his career. And not just from the starting team but the squad of 23 also. Roberts came in at 12, Jonathan Davies slipped across to 13 and Manu Tuilagi came onto the bench.

“The obvious change was Brian. I’d come into the side and Jonathan [Davies] had been playing well on that tour.

“Myself and Jon got onto the bus, he sat next to me and said: ‘This is going to get interesting, I’m going to take some flak here.’

“Brian was brilliant. We trained that day and he was the first guy after training to come up to me, as you would expect from a man of his calibre and rugby experience, and said: ‘Look, obviously gutted with selection, but anything you need or I can help you with, just let me know.’

“But to do that, whilst obviously being understandably devastated – and there’s no doubt about that, that would have been a very, very tough time for him, knowing it was his last tour, his last chance to shine on the biggest stage – he handled himself with great dignity.

“That was a challenge to us. If a guy of that stature is getting left out of the side for us, it’s up to us to raise the bar and play at a level acceptable to that decision, and we did.”

When reflecting on that day, Roberts returns to a feeling of gratefulness.

Many others in his predicament would not have been given the opportunity to recover and return.

“I’m forever grateful to the staff and medical staff for getting me right for that game, because I thought my tour was over.

“I’ve watched the Living with Lions videos, in 1997 and 2001, of lads getting injured and being sent home. I thought that was me, I really did. I remember crying in the dressing room thinking: ‘I’m that guy.’

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Dominic Cummings cut-out spotted among cardboard fans at NRL showdown

A cardboard cut-out of Dominic Cummings has been spotted at an NRL game in Sydney.

Boris Johnson's top aide has been a hot topic after he appeared to break lockdown rules by travelling from his London home to Durham.

While in the north he then took another journey to Barnard Castle, which he claims was to check he was healthy enough to drive.

The Government have stuck by and defended Cummings despite growing calls for him to resign.

But in Australia they have seen the funny side and included a cardboard cut-out of the Prime Minister's top aide.

It was spotted at Bankwest Stadium during the clash between the Sydney Roosters and the South Sydney Rabbitohs.

The NRL have selected several stadiums which will host all of the competition's matches.

But fans are allowed to pay $22 (£11) for a cut-out of themselves to be placed where spectators would usually be and Cummings has been spotted.

The advisor has said he "doesn't regret what he did" before going on to say: "I believe in all circumstances I behaved reasonably and legally, balancing the safety of my family, and the extreme situation in number 10, and the public interest in effective government, to which I could contribute.”

Durham Police however have said that Cummings' trip may have been a "minor breach" of lockdown rules.

Johnson is coming under increased pressure to act after a government minister resigned and the leader of the Scottish Tories joined 24 Conservative MPs in calling for Cummings to consider his position.

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World Rugby approve law trials to reduce coronavirus risk

Drastically reducing the amount of scrums during a game, removing the choke tackle, limiting numbers in the maul and speeding up rucks are among 10 optional law trials approved by World Rugby to help reduce the risk of coronavirus transmission in the sport.

A number of hygiene procedures for training and matches have also been formally recommended by the sport’s world governing body.

Implementation of the measures will be at the discretion of individual unions based on the prevalence of the virus in their territory and specific government advice.

“We have extensively evaluated the perceived risk areas within the game,” said World Rugby boss Sir Bill Beaumont.

The law trials were drawn up after an analysis of 60 matches by the governing body’s Law Review Group, which comprises coaches, players, match officials, medics and law specialists.

However the group decided against compulsory global application of the trials given the variation of coronavirus across nations.

World Rugby expect the trials to apply more to the community game than the elite end, where testing is likely to be more widespread, although the introduction of an “orange card” is specific to the professional game.

Among the law trials:

  • Removing scrum resets.
  • Taking away the option of a scrum for a penalty, a free-kick, or when an attacker is held-up in-goal.
  • Reinforcing high tackle guidelines to reduce face-to-face contact and the introduction of an “orange card” for potential red-card offences.
  • The player is removed with the offence checked by the Television Match Official. If deemed a red card offence, the player doesn’t return. If not, they return after 15 minutes.
  • Removing the choke tackle, with referees calling a “tackle” rather than a “maul”.
  • Awarding a free-kick rather than a scrum for when a team fails to “use it” at a scrum, ruck, or maul.
  • Speeding up rucks by cutting the “use it” time from 5 seconds to 3 seconds.
  • Restricting the number of players who can join a maul and the time spent in the maul.

With tight-five forwards considered most at risk of transmission, World Rugby estimate that the changes could reduce contact exposure by more than 30%.

Hygiene measures being recommended include hand and face sanitisation before and after a match, and ball washing before, during and after games.

Where possible, players will be asked to change their kit at half-time, and have been advised to refrain from team huddles and close-contact celebration, as well as spitting and nose clearance.

In training, scrum practice should be against a machine rather than another set of forwards, and high-transmission risk training, such as scrummaging and mauling, should be avoided within 48 hours of a match.

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Lyon grilled, admits to ‘cheap shots’

AFL greats Garry Lyon and Tim Watson have admitted to firing “cheap shots” at the NRL as the league prepares to return from the coronavirus lockdown.

Last month, ARLC chairman Peter V’landys was widely condemned for announcing the NRL was aiming to make a comeback on May 28.

Despite some backlash, the NRL overcame travel bans, training restrictions and initial resistance from the Queensland government to ensure the competition could return in late May.

The AFL was more cautious in its approach, and recently revealed its season would resume on June 11th.

On Friday, V’landys took a cheeky jab at the AFL, claiming he “had a giggle” while the footy community frantically argued about bubbles.

“The first thing I said to Wayne Pearce, who heads Project Apollo, is that we won’t be using ‘bubbles’. We’ll just need self-isolation — and I was right,” V’landys told the Sydney Morning Herald.

ARLC chairman Peter Peter V’landys at Rugby League Central in Sydney.Source:News Corp Australia

Watson and Lyon suggested the NRL, logistically, had things easier and highlighted how the AFL had to combat West Australia and South Australia border closures.

Melbourne legend Lyon also couldn’t resist poking fun at the NRL attendance numbers, and referred to V’landys as “push-ahead Pete”.

“I don’t think they’ll miss the crowds much either by the way given not many turn up,” Watson said on SEN Breakfast on Monday.

The Daily Telegraph reporter Paul Kent took offence to the pair’s remarks and called them “halfwits” on NRL 360 on Wednesday, telling them to “pull your heads in” because rugby league has done a great job in getting back up and running.

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In an attempt to smoke the peace pipe, Watson and Lyon invited Kent onto their SEN radio show, where he called them out for firing barbs at rugby league.

“There were a couple of cheap shots in there about the crowds,” Kent said.

“You said it’s more complex for the AFL because there’s five states – New South Wales, Queensland, Victoria, Western Australia and South Australia. But you said in the NRL it was only New South Wales, Queensland and the New Zealand Government. You also have the Victorian Government you left out … as well as the ACT Government.

“It was quite complex. The New Zealand Warriors have had to camp in Australia; they can’t even return to their country.”

Watson conceded: “I left out Victoria, you’re quite right Paul.

“But there still are some complexities that the AFL are dealing with, with Western Australia and South Australia at the moment.”

Lyon added: “Mine was (a cheap shot about the crowd numbers), 100 per cent.”

SEN breakfast radio show hosts Garry Lyon and Tim Watson.Source:Herald Sun

Lyon clarified the pair’s previous comments, saying they had been fully supportive of V’landys during the coronavirus lockdown.

“Tim and I have been the greatest supporter of ‘push-ahead Pete’,” Lyon said. “We think he’s done an outstanding job in getting the game back.”

Although there is a healthy rivalry between the two codes, Lyon believed the AFL community was “cheering” for the return of the NRL premiership, despite the early scepticism.

“I do think we probably have had a superiority complex up here from an AFL point of view for a while,” Lyon said.

“The banter between the two codes should be strong.

“I will say genuinely Kenty we are really happy … we are cheering.

“When Peter V’landys said May 28 we put our hands in the air and all laughed but as it became apparent that it is going to happen, we are cheering for the comeback of the sport.”

The trio all shared a laugh and there were no hard feelings among them.

Hawthorn Football Club President Jeff Kennett.Source:AAP

On Monday, Hawthorn Football Club President Jeff Kennett poked fun at the NRL, dubbing rugby league a “boring” sport.

“You won’t find me biting at the bit to turn on the television to watch it. Boring, boring game. Doesn’t interest me at all,” Kennett told The Australian.

“I would rather do some underwater knitting.”

Kent unsurprisingly returned serve.

“Jeff Kennett said he’d rather knit under water than watch rugby league. Well I’ve got a pool up here,” he said on Thursday.

“He can come up and I’ll hold his head under.”

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Sharks’ unspoken roster blow in Xerri drug scandal

Get ready for the return of the 2020 season by joining Ben Ikin and Paul Kent as they discuss the game’s big issues on Fox League’s NRL360 Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday nights at 6.30pm.

Cronulla boss Dino Mezzatesta admits the NRL club would have kept Josh Morris had the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority not waited six months to reveal a positive drug test for Bronson Xerri.

On the eve of the league’s return from its COVID-19 shutdown, Xerri was sensationally stood down after testing positive to performance-enhancing substances.

There is mounting pressure on ASADA to explain why the NRL was not notified of Xerri’s result from a test in November until Monday.

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Cook shocked by Xerri news

NRL: Damian Cook says that it is a players responsibility to know what supplements they are taking and is shocked by the news of Bronson Xerri.

Should the 19-year-old’s B-sample also be positive, Xerri faces a maximum four-year ban.

Mezzatesta on Wednesday questioned the drawn out process, with ASADA refusing to respond to requests for an explanation.

“That’s a matter really for the NRL to take up with ASADA but it does seem like a long process,” Mezzatesta said.

“Our hope is that the process isn’t anywhere near as long to conclude. “It could be more damaging not only for the individual and club but the code itself.

“We should be celebrating the return to game and that’s what we should be focusing and concentrating on.

“That’s why we’d hope there’s an expedient outcome for all concerned.”

Xerri’s unavailability comes after the Sharks in March granted Morris an early release from his contract to join twin brother Brett at the Sydney Roosters. Coach John Morris must now turn to veteran Josh Dugan and established talent Jesse Ramien.

Had he known of Xerri’s uncertain fate earlier, Morris would still be in Cronulla.

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Xerri positive to ‘a range’

NRL: Bronson Xerri has returned positive samples for multiple different banned substances, with the NRL immediately stepping him down.

“That’s one of the reasons why we’re quite disappointed in the length of time that it’s taken to notify not only the NRL, but the club,” Mezzatesta said. “Things may have been completely different for us.

“So absolutely, had we been notified early, we may have well taken things very differently in our approach to our playing roster.”

Prime Minister Scott Morrison weighed into the matter earlier on Wednesday. “As a Sharks fan I’m obviously disappointed and I’m sure the players and the club officials are disappointed,” Morrison said on Sky News. “But there is an ASADA process that is ongoing and I don’t want pre-judge that. “Bronson is an incredibly talented young footballer, he made his debut last year and was electrifying to watch.

“It would appear based on what we have seen that there have been some terrible judgments on his part.” Mezzatesta vowed the club would support Xerri as he deals with the matter. “I’ve spoken to Bronson and spoken to his family. He’s obviously very shaken, he’s got a long road ahead,” he said.

“He needs to take some advice, but he’s fully aware that he has our full support.”

Originally published asSharks’ unspoken roster blow in Xerri drug scandal

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Danny Wilson to start Glasgow Warriors head coach job next week

Danny Wilson will take up his new position as Glasgow head coach from next week, a month earlier than planned.

The Warriors have announced that Scotland forwards coach Wilson will take charge from Monday as Australia-bound Dave Rennie makes way in anticipation of rugby returning in Australia.

The original plan had been for Wilson to come in to shadow Rennie for the rest of the season following the Six Nations, but the shutdown of play has led to a rethink.

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Wilson said: “My sincere thanks goes to Dave for providing me with an extensive handover that has allowed for this early transition.

“Dave, his staff and players have done a great job, leading the squad to the 2018/19 Guinness PRO14 final, and leaves a solid platform to develop this squad from for the future.

“We’re now looking forward to getting back to rugby and starting training as soon as is safe to do so.”

Rennie is now awaiting the green light to travel to Australia to begin work, but tipped Wilson to thrive as his successor at Scotstoun.

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Exeter Chiefs: A decade on from club’s promotion to Premiership

Exeter Chiefs are renowned as one of England’s top rugby union sides and, but for the coronavirus pandemic, would likely be challenging to reach a fifth successive Premiership final.

On 26 May 2010, though, the club had never played a game in the top tier and were facing their biggest match ever – the Championship play-off final second leg against Bristol.

History will show that Exeter won 29-10 at the Memorial Stadium to follow a 9-6 win at Sandy Park the week before – victories that started the rise of a side that is now among the very best in the domestic game.

BBC Sport caught up with some of the men who were key to that success to relive it a decade on.

The first Championship

English rugby’s second tier had been given a makeover for the 2009-10 season. The old 16-team National One league was replaced by the 12-team Championship – and it was gruelling.

A 22-game regular season was followed by round-robin games with the top eight sides in two pools aiming for a semi-final place and the bottom four fighting relegation. After that, there was a one-legged semi-final and a two-legged final.

Add to that five pool fixtures in the newly-formed British and Irish Cup and the Chiefs played 36 matches that season.

“It was the first time they’d tried it in terms of the play-off system, and everybody was involved whether you were at the top of the table or towards the bottom,” recalled winger Matt Jess, who was the Championship’s top try-scorer with 14 tries that season.

“It was a huge slog and effectively we had two pre-seasons.”

As well as their usual pre-season in the summer, Exeter’s coaches had put their players through a six-week ‘mini pre-season’ at the end of 2009.

“From the moment we came in until the end of the play-offs there were 50 weeks in a row of either training or games,” added Steenson, who scored a league-high 280 points and kicked Exeter to glory in the final.

“There were definitely a few eyebrows raised around Christmas thinking ‘we’re going into pre-season training’, lifting a lot heavier weights and not as many pitch sessions.

“Yes we lost a few games and a few people were asking if the wheels had fallen off, but in the grand scheme of things we got our tactics right and it went well for us going into the final stretch.”

Exeter’s own pressure

In 2008-09 Exeter finished second behind Leeds. A loss to Moseley in March in a league game that also doubled up as a National Trophy semi-final saw head coach Pete Drewett sacked.

It was the second year in a row that they had finished second and missed out on promotion, having just moved to Premiership-ready Sandy Park from the old County Ground.

Chiefs had assembled a squad of the best players from the south west of England, with Jess joining from Launceston, Steenson leading an exodus from Cornish Pirates and Nic Sesteret and Tom Hayes moving from Plymouth Albion.

Rob Baxter took over as head coach that summer and brought in backs coach Ali Hepher and skills coach Ricky Pellow – all of whom are still coaching at Sandy Park.

“When I joined, you could see the club wanted to go places, and that’s why we were all brought in,” says Steenson.

“We maybe got it slightly wrong, we had a very big senior squad and trying to keep everybody happy in that environment is difficult.

“By trimming the squad down you got more game time, we were a bit more of a unit and we just got it right that year.”

But in his first season as a head coach, Baxter says ‘pressure’ is not the right words to describe it.

“I actually think it was showing a confidence,” he told BBC Sport. “When we invested a lot of money to increase our capacity so we would be able to take up a position in the Premiership if we won, it showed quite a lot of faith in the lads, and I think it certainly showed the lads that whatever happened, we were there and ready to go.”

Nocturnal Chiefs prepare for final

Confidence was high – Exeter lost just three games all season, all of them coming in succession in December during their mid-season pre-season.

They ended the campaign second behind relegated Premiership team Bristol on bonus points after both sides posted 19 wins and three losses.

After topping their promotion pool, Exeter went on to beat Bedford 37-8 in the semi-finals before the two-legged affair with Bristol – live on television and under floodlights.

But like the December pre-season, Exeter had an innovative way to prepare for their late games.

“Back then all our games were three o’clock traditional kick-offs, but the final was going to be in the evening, which was completely different to what we were doing,” said fly-half Steenson.

“So we had this idea that if we trained at the time we were playing, our body clocks would fit with it, which was a really good thing to do.

“I remember coming home and being told I had to stay up until two or three o’clock in the morning and then sleep in until 11 o’clock the next day to try to get our body clocks into sync with kick-off.”

Baxter added: “Mentally it was such a good thing as much as anything else.

“All of a sudden there’s a little bit of a shift, the lads know you’re leaving no stone unturned in your preparation for the game, and the weather was nice, so to turn up at Sandy Park and train in some balmy evenings was actually really nice.

“The lads also heard that Bristol hadn’t changed anything, so all those little things they start to hear and they start think ‘maybe were tipping the balance in our favour by doing these bits and pieces’.”

‘There was almost electricity in the air’

The first leg of the final was one for the purists – a 9-6 Exeter win at Sandy Park as Steenson kicked three penalties to Adrian Jarvis’ two for Bristol.

“That was a hard game, one of the toughest games I’ve seen at Sandy Park in terms of the physicality, the not backing down and two teams knocking lumps out of each other legally,” recalled Baxter.

Jess added: “You had a lot of players that had been so close to playing Premiership rugby and not been able to fulfil their dreams and they were coming at loggerheads against players who had been there, seen it and done it.”

But it was the second leg that would decide Exeter’s fate.

“There was almost electricity in the air that night,” continued Baxter. “I can’t really explain it, but it’s funny how so many people who were also there felt their same. There was some kind of crackle, you could almost feel it.

“My wife said ‘I watched the lads warm up and I knew something special was happening’ – for people to feel it just shows you way at was going on that night.”

It was a nervy game early on – two Steenson penalties put Exeter nine ahead on aggregate, but Luke Arscott’s 16th-minute try saw the gap down to two points.

But at a rain-soaked Memorial Stadium Steenson kept his nerve – kicking two more penalties before half-time to give his side breathing space and adding a further two penalties and a pair of drop goals.

Then Simon Alcott’s late try secured promotion with a 29-10 win on the night and 38-16 on aggregate.

“I just saw it as doing my role for the team,” recalls Northern Ireland-born Steenson, who landed 33 points over the two games.

“I’m in the side to do a certain job, I’m not in the side to win a scrum penalty, I’m not in the side to win a line-out – that’s the beauty of our game.

“It does look from the outside like one man stepping up and doing that, but that’s what my role was.

“Now when I sit back and think about what has happened over the last few years I didn’t really appreciate at the time how big it may have been, which is probably a good thing.

“If I’d actually gone back and thought about the amount of pressure that’s on this it might have played on my mind.”

Beginning of a legacy

Exeter have gone from strength to strength since that day – they finished eighth in their first season when everyone said they would go down – and are now one of the most consistent sides in the league.

Jess said: “Two or three years after, there wasn’t huge amounts of changes. A few people retired, but whatever signing was coming in, there was already a culture at the Chiefs.

“Because there were no wholesale changes, the culture at the club stayed, a culture that went all the way back to the days at the County Ground.”

Baxter added: “The best bits of the culture that made Exeter Chiefs strong are still there, but our expectations of what we demand from the players has altered slightly.

“It’s not just going to be good enough to work hard and give it a go, it’s not what top-level professional sport’s all about.

“It’s not good enough just to run about and work hard. You’ve got to be very focused on what you’re doing and the benefits to the team that your small actions can make.

“As we’ve focused more and more on that, and the lads have bought into that, that’s created that bit more success.”

That success came to a pinnacle seven years and one day after promotion, when Exeter beat Wasps to win the 2017 Premiership final.

“The beauty of what we did over the years to get to the point where we’re winning Premierships and being a top side is we understood where we were at each stage and we knew we had to keep growing,” said Steenson.

“If you look at the guys that have come into the club throughout the years, they’ve fitted the club, the attitude of the lads here and bought into the culture.

“You see players wanting to come and play for Exeter Chiefs, that’s where we’re at at the moment, as opposed to us approaching players.

“I still believe the club’s going to get better to this day.

“Where we’re at, we need to be looking to conquer Europe. We weren’t going to conquer Europe five years ago, it takes a wee bit of time to learn, and I think now we’re getting to that point.”

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