Exeter's story is one of fairytales and unlikely to ever be replicated. In the year rugby was professionalised, Exeter were in England's fourth division, then known as the Courage League Division 4. It would certainly take an owner a lot of courage to take this small club to the pinnacle of European rugby. But that's exactly what local businessman Tony Rowe did.
1996 saw Exeter return to Courage League Division 3 and in 1997 they immediately jumped to the Allied Dunbar Premiership Division 2, now known as the Championship. Exeter grafted away for twelve seasons in England's second division. Thirteen is normally unlucky for some, but in the thirteenth season the rules changed. A playoff was added to secure the chance of promotion. Exeter had never finished first, but they had ended the season as runners up on three occasions in the past five seasons. In 2009/10, they finished second again. They dispatched Bedford with ease in the semi final but would come up against table toppers Bristol in the final. The Chiefs shot their shot. They grabbed victory from Bristol and found themselves reaching the top table of English rugby with away trips to England's most prestigious clubs.
Exeter's Championship winning side was coached by rookie Director of Rugby, Rob Baxter, in his debut season as a coach. The local lock had played at the club for 14 years and captained the side for a decade. Exeter was in his blood. Baxter began building a side which would go on to win titles. Exeter's early Premiership years were built around a core of players including Gareth Steenson, Ian Whitten, Dean Mumm, Thomas Waldrom and Phil Dollman. Then young bucks full of international potential began coming through the system. This included Henry Slade, Jack Nowell, Luke Cowan-Dickie and Sam Simmonds. Baxter crafted a side with a philosophy of possession and working their way up the field with wave after wave of carries. Exeter were always close but needed some extra international talent to get them over the line. This came in the form of Scottish internationals Stuart Hogg and Jonny Gray. Baxter has taken his side to two Premiership titles and to club rugby's Everest with a European Champions Cup in 2020.
The club is now at a crossroads. The Chiefs have been faced with an exodus this summer with the majority of the club's top players departing. Only four of Exeter's European winning XV from three years ago will be at Sandy Park this season. Baxter has placed his faith in a new core of young players coming through, including: Christ Tshiunza, Dafydd Jenkins, Richard Capstick, Greg Fisilau, Tom Wyatt, Josh Hodge and Will Becconsall. Can Baxter create a new and improved Exeter 2.0?