Exeter Chiefs triumph over Racing 92 in Champions Cup Final thriller

Sam Hidalgo-Clyne's turnover on his own line with five minutes to go is the decisive moment in a pulsating clash

Exeter Chiefs players celebrate the late turnover which derailed Racing 92's late surge for glory. Image: ©INPHO/Rogan Thomson
Exeter Chiefs players celebrate the late turnover which derailed Racing 92's late surge for glory. Image: ©INPHO/Rogan Thomson

SAM HIDALGO-CLYNE’S crucial turnover on his own line with five minutes to go in a pulsating European Champions Cup Final derailed a late Racing 92 surge and allowed Exeter Chiefs to battle back up-field, culminating in captain Joe Simmonds kicking a late penalty which secured a 31-27 victory for the Devon outfit.

The result adds four Scots to the list of Champions Cup winners with Stuart Hogg, Jonny Gray and Sam Skinner, along with Hidalgo-Clyne, all playing their part in Exeter’s triumph. They and their team-mates will enjoy their weekend before refocusing on next weekend’s Gallagher Premiership Grand Final against Wasps. Thereafter, Hogg, Gray and Skinner will join up with Scotland’s Autumn Test Series training camp, while Hidalgo-Clyne must surely be in the frame for a call-up for the Nations Cup section  of this international window, having really impressed since joining the Chiefs during lockdown.

It was heartbreak for fellow Scot and Racing stand-off Finn Russell, who blew hot and cold in dramatic fashion, before ending up on the losing side. He will join up with the Scotland squad tomorrow [Sunday].

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The Chiefs fired out the blocks and raced into a 14-0 lead through tries from Luke Cowan-Dickie and Sam Simmonds. Racing 92 scrum-half Teddy Iribaren was having a nightmare and Russell didn’t help his team’s cause when he fumbled the ball behind his own line.

But with Russell, triumph and despair can swap places with breathtaking frequency, and he played a key role in dragging his side back into it with a brilliant flat, miss-two pass which sent Simon Zebo on a dash for Racing’s opening try.

The conversion was missed, but Racing now had momentum on their side and they pulled it back to two points when Juan Imhoff came off his wing to break from the base of a ruck, threw a dummy and scuttled under the posts.

Chiefs prop Harry Williams rumbled over to put his team back in the driving seat on he stroke of half-time, before the Russell-Zebo combination early in the second period pulled it back again to a four-point match.

But then Russell’s determination to push his luck backfired when another long, flat pass just outside his own 22 was picked out by opposition winger Jack Nowell, who then sent Henry Slade over for Exeter’s fourth try.

Racing weren’t done yet, however, and hooker Camille Chat powered his way over the line, before Maxime Machenaud knocked over a penalty to make it a one-point game.

Exeter lost replacement prop Tom Francis to the sin-bin for a deliberate knock-on and referee Nigel Owens thought about a penalty try. He decided against it, but Racing continued pile on the pressure, and there was a strong case for Russell – or one of his team-mates – to drop back into the hole to take a drop-goal which would sneak the French side ahead. They didn’t go for it, and when Antonie Claassen a hit thunderous line but was pulled down just short, Hidalgo-Clyne managed to get on the ball to earn that all-important penalty.

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About David Barnes 3817 Articles
David has worked as a freelance rugby journalist since 2004 covering every level of the game in Scotland for publications including he Herald/Sunday Herald, The Sunday Times, The Telegraph, The Scotsman/Scotland on Sunday/Evening News, The Daily Record, The Daily Mail/Mail on Sunday and The Sun.