Now that Saracens are destined to accept their punishment for salary cap breaches, their priority will be Premiership survival, so the onus is on Exeter to lead the English challenge in Europe.
Such is the spending power of the leading French clubs — with their vast budgets and their array of overseas imports — that there will be doubts about whether it is possible for a Premiership club to stay within their cap and emerge as contenders for Champions Cup glory.
It is up to the Chiefs to prove otherwise and they have set about that task in fine style. Rob Baxter’s side claimed a magnificent 31-12 victory over La Rochelle by the Atlantic on Saturday. Stade Marcel Deflandre has become a fortress of late, so this felt like a breakthrough result for the Devonians.
Saracens director Mark McCall faces a difficult spell given the 35 point deduction for Saracens
Exeter, seen here against La Rochelle in the European Rugby Champions Cup, must take onus
Tom O'Flagherty during European Rugby Champions Cup, Pool 2 match against La Rochelle
In recent seasons they have been a force in the domestic game but not yet on the continent. Their hope will be that this famous, bonus-point win can act as a launch-pad, in a tournament they are again regarding as a prime target.
In each of their previous Champions Cup campaigns, Exeter failed to win more than three of their six pool matches. But with uncertainty surrounding Saracens’ ability to mount a meaningful defence of their title in trying circumstances, the flag must be flown by their rivals from the South West. When the salary cap verdict against Saracens was announced, Exeter reacted with understandable anger and indignation.
Their chairman, Tony Rowe, has spoken of seeking legal advice about the loss of three Premiership finals against opponents who flouted the regulations.
He has talked of a fixture boycott too. Director of rugby Baxter has also voiced frustrations about his team being unfairly denied titles and glory. The club feel aggrieved and they have said so.
Now they have the chance to deliver an even more powerful message on the field. They must seek to dominate the Premiership and gate-crash the European hierarchy. It is difficult to see many English clubs making it into the Champions Cup quarter-finals this season unless Northampton’s transformation accelerates under Chris Boyd.
In a continental context, Saracens have done nothing wrong. They won those titles — three of them in the last four years — fair and square. Their offence is a domestic one.
Exeter have been their sole challengers in what has become a Premiership duopoly in recent years, so the hope must