From the depths of English rugby to the heights of European glory, this is the story of Exeter Chiefs

In 1996, when Toulouse clinched their first European Cup, a young Rob Baxter was captaining Exeter out of the English fourth division in front of a few hundred fans on the south coast.

Not normally a man known for bursts of emotion, the 49-year-old must pinch himself when contemplating how far the club has come over the last twenty-four years.

After retiring as a player, Baxter went into coaching and has transformed the Chiefs from Devon minnows to a team now on the cusp of Premiership and European glory.

Exeter’s thrilling win over Toulouse last weekend means they will play Racing 92 in their first-ever Champions Cup final next month. A sweet victory in just their 10th year as an English top-flight team.

What’s remarkable about their fairytale story is that it hasn’t come true because of heavyweight Southern Hemisphere signings or rich Middle Eastern owners, but from creating a ferocious work ethic, committed culture and willingness to win.

After a series of unsuccessful skirmishes in the early years, the Chiefs only gained promotion to the Premiership for the first time in 2010 after beating Bristol in the Championship play-offs.

The cries from Devon would surely have been heard all over Britain after years of near-misses as the club longed for a place in English rugby’s top tier.

Since that sunny day in May over a decade ago, it’s been a gradual but swift evolution, which has also included Heineken Cup qualification in 2014 and winning the LV Cup in the same year.

Exeter’s steady, yet positive development saw them reach their maiden Premiership final in 2016, losing out to Saracens in a one-sided contest at Twickenham.

You have to lose one win before you win one, and that defeat would surely have added character, hunger and experience into a 

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Why Man United and Man City have no reason to press the panic button… yet

Jubilation on the pitch after referee Chris Kavanagh blew his whistle, for a second time, was matched by a gnawed introspection from Manchester United supporters locked out of pulsating events at The Amex.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men used a season’s worth of luck to down Brighton & Hove Albion 3-2, via Bruno Fernandes’ landmark – for the Premier League – penalty kick after added time. Each shudder from the woodwork when it was rattled on five occasions by Saturday’s unfortunate hosts was felt within the hearts of the worried Red Devils faithful, of whom wounds remain raw from their chastening opening assignment against Crystal Palace.

Yet events back home a day later cast this, utterly remarkable, let-off in fresh light. Salvaging a first three points of 2020/21, at the second attempt, deserves some celebration and not rampant recrimination.

Sunday’s glee at Manchester City’s continuing defensive implosions within a 5-2 rout by Leicester City, which appeared to increase Pep Guardiola’s existential crisis, was fortunately timed. It also should not have been a surprise for anyone, truly, paying attention to the unprecedented disruption caused by COVID-19.

Fandom and concern go hand in hand. Anguish is an unwelcome by-product of adulation, familiar as elation.

Mitigation is, however, in bountiful supply for those of red, or sky blue, persuasion.

It is little more than a month since European knockout ties were being contested by these behemoths of the game.

Superstars attached to both clubs have contracted the infectious disease which defines this blighted year, a celebrated starlet from both sparked an international incident in Iceland, a truncated pre-season witnessed United lose their only friendly to Aston Villa and City eschew them all together, life remains disrupted in a conurbation of which stringent societal restrictions have been reimposed and crowds are locked out of desolate

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History made as Al Nasr make Dia Saba first Israeli signing in Arabian Gulf League

History has been made in the Arabian Gulf League after Al Nasr made Dia Saba the first Israeli signing in 47 years since the competition’s founding.

The UAE last month formally agreed to become the opening Gulf nation to normalise relations, via the globally heralded Abraham Accords. This remarkable diplomatic breakthrough – signed alongside United States President Donald Trump at the White House on September 15, with Bahrain – opened up cooperation on a wide range of areas.

A transfer valued at €5 million by Al Bayan newspaper from China’s Guangzhou R&F is the latest reflection of the peace deal’s extensive reach. Saba, 27, landed in Dubai on Saturday and subsequently inked a two-year contract on a move considered impossible until recent events.

The diminutive 10-times-capped playmaker – born in Majd al-Krum to a Muslim-Arab family – is expected to add an injection of creativity into a side who were on course for a sixth-placed finish, before coronavirus’ spread forced March’s cessation and the ultimate cancellation of 2019/20. The Blue Wave lifted last season’s Arabian Gulf Cup in January, but haven’t been crowned top-flight champions since 1985/86 despite having star names such as Alvaro Negredo and Yohan Cabaye in their ranks during recent campaigns.

A statement released by the Blue Wave late on Sunday night declared “the player’s recruitment came from a purely artistic perspective and was chosen due to his many talents and technical capabilities”. Chairman Abdul Rahman Abu Al Shawarib added to this sentiment, by stating: “The new player [Saba] will be welcome by all club employees and all football fans in the country.

“The football club has succeeded in adding a new element which will show a distinguished level with the rest of the players. This will help raise the banner of Al Nasr and lead them

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