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