Joe Simmonds reflects on Exeter’s thrilling win over Toulouse in Heineken Champions Cup semi-final

It was when Joe Simmonds parted the red-shirted sea with 10 minutes left that Exeter Chiefs knew – at last – they were marching towards a fresh promised land.

As the 23-year-old Teignmouth-born No.10 ran in with an excitable arm aloft to score the sensational fourth try against Toulouse he knew it was done.

Mobbed by his brother Sam, 25, who had taken his own try earlier, it was a fitting celebration of the local lads made good.

Joe Simmonds touches down for Exeter in the Heineken Champions Cup semi-final win

Joe Simmonds touches down for Exeter in the Heineken Champions Cup semi-final win 

Joe Simmonds (L) celebrates with his brother Sam after securing victory over Toulouse

Joe Simmonds (L) celebrates with his brother Sam after securing victory over Toulouse

Looking on, Tavistock’s Rob Baxter allowed himself to smile.

Up in the stands the bloke who as a player had battled in games against Redruth, Havant, Wharfedale and Orrell was now leading his team to the European Cup final.

Ever with feet cemented to the ground, Baxter did have time to reflect on this wonderful journey so far.

‘It is incredible,’ he said.

‘But I’m not going to say it’s a dream come true, because it’s not.

Chiefs coach Rob Baxter allowed himself to smile as Exeter reached first European Cup final

Chiefs coach Rob Baxter allowed himself to smile as Exeter reached first European Cup final

‘It’s not been a dream, it’s been a reality and a lot of hard work from a lot of people, but it does feel like a fantastic achievement.

‘I captained the team in Courage League Division 4. I actually might have scored a try against Redruth!

‘We dropped down to the fourth division in the 90s, came up to the Championship then spent ages trying to get out of there. How many times did the relegated Premiership side get back up?

‘What did we do? We slowly built this place and decided to never go away.

‘Those decisions to keep going for it are why we are here now.

‘I’m not even going to pretend that 25 years ago we thought we were on the same rugby planet as Toulouse.

Toulouse centre Pita Ahki attempts to halt the run of Exeter fly half Joe Simmonds

Toulouse centre Pita Ahki attempts to halt the run of Exeter fly half Joe Simmonds

‘I used to love watching the Heineken Cup. I remember one year in the Championship Phil John the Pontypridd hooker walked in our changing rooms and I thought “I’ve just watched you in the Heineken Cup, what are you doing here?!”

‘So to be part of it now is absolutely amazing.’ It has been a while since their more humble days, and now with Lions Jack Nowell and Stuart Hogg as well as Henry Slade, Luke Cowan-Dickie, Jonny Gray, Tomas Francis, Harry Williams and more besides established internationals Exeter are hardly just full of farmers and bin-men any more.

But their win – based on true grit, gnarly forwards and an extraordinarily successful pick-and-go game – against four-time winners, and the most regal club in Europe Toulouse was seminal.

Simmonds Jnr, who had taken 13 of the points, was wide-eyed after.

‘It hasn’t really sunk in,’ said the baby-faced assassin.

‘We’ve never been in this position before and it’s a massive opportunity for not just the players but the club and Exeter as a city as well. We’ll be raring to go.

Joe Simmonds insists his Exeter team-mates will 'be raring to go' ahead of showpiece final

Joe Simmonds insists his Exeter team-mates will ‘be raring to go’ ahead of showpiece final

‘It’s nice having Sam in the team. We never really talk about it but when we finish playing and look back it’s going to be a proud moment for both of us.’ It was tight-head Williams who scored twice from close range, either side of No 8 Simmonds’ surge to put the Chiefs in command.

Toulouse full-back Thomas Raoms missed five crucial points from the tee either side of half-time and they failed to kick on after their massive pack caused Exeter issues and Alban Placines scored out wide.

So by the time captain Simmonds danced in the Chiefs knew they were one win from a first continental crown.

‘The gap just opened up,’ said the No 10 of his try.

Chiefs players celebrate their fourth and final try in thrilling victory at Sandy Park

Chiefs players celebrate their fourth and final try in thrilling victory at Sandy Park

‘Luckily I had the legs to run it in. I was pretty tired at the time!

‘I watched that 2010 Championship play-off win against Bristol here and looked up to guys like Gareth Steenson. To be here now is crazy.

‘We’re so passionate to win trophies. We’ve had a few hurts in the last couple of years, losing finals, but we showed with that performance that everyone’s hungry.’ On October 17 they will travel 90 miles up the road to Ashton Gate for another shot at French aristocrats.

And you know by now there will be no stars in Chiefs eyes when Racing 92 come for the Cup.

Baxter concluded: ‘The biggest thing for me now is not to turn up and take part in the game, but to go out and win it.’

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