Season Review 2018/19
By Mark Stevens
Exeter Chiefs maintained their phenomenal form in Gallagher Premiership Rugby this season but once more the showpiece finale at Twickenham ended in heartbreak at the hands of Saracens.
In a season full of highs and a smattering of lows for Rob Baxter's side, the Devonians - for a second successive year - finished top of the table at the end of 22 rounds, before falling just short in one of the all-time great finals.
The Chiefs had a blistering start to the season with eight wins in a row, including a dominant 40-6 victory against Leicester Tigers on the opening day, and a 39-24 win away to Bath Rugby in round six.
Director of Rugby Baxter once again guided his side to first place in the table with Saracens their nearest challengers eight points behind.
A semi-final victory over Northampton Saints at Sandy Park clinched them a place in their fourth successive Final, but their trip to the capital again ended in disappointment against Mark McCall's side.
Despite having an 11-point lead over Saracens in the finale, the defending champions fought their way back and sealed the biggest comeback in Gallagher Premiership Final history winning 37-34.
Europe is still an area where the Chiefs will feel they have more to offer. They finished second in their pool behind semi-finalists Munster, narrowly missing out on a spot in the last eight.
The Chiefs had plenty of highs throughout the season starting off the with astonishing at scoreline in the first round and their winning streak.
Sandy Park acted as a fortress for Chiefs as this year as they won 10 of their 11 home rounds in Gallagher Premiership Rugby including a 31-13 triumph over 2018 champions Saracens.
In the last home game of the normal season and the semi-final, they faced the same opponent in Northampton Saints and twice scored 40 points against them.
Thrilling away victories for Exeter also came when they beat Leicester 52-20 at Welford Road, inched past Worcester 33-30 at Sixways, and held on to win 31-29 against Bristol Bears at Ashton Gate.
In a season where Chiefs agonisingly lost out on clinching their second league title, there were some standout performances across the squad.
Back row Matt Kvesic, who joined Exeter from Gloucester in 2017, was nominated for the 2018-19 Premiership Player of the Season.
Having emerged as an openside flanker, Kvesic has switched to No.8 for Chiefs and was outstanding in the position. He has established himself as a mainstay in the team throughout the year and has scored eight tries for his side, made 284 carries and gained 368 metres.
In the back line, there was plenty of spark from scrum-half Nic White and Henry Slade with six tries apiece while Santiago Cordero managed nine.
After a few months of being second in the pecking order, Joe Simmonds stepped up and sparked his season into action.
In a similar fashion to last season, the younger of the Simmonds brothers held his own in the second half of this season ensuring Exeter’s route to the Gallagher Premiership Rugby Final.
The 22-year-old fly-half was shortlisted for Land Rover Discovery of the Season 2018-19, but one highlight of his season was the match when Chiefs booked their semi-final spot with victory over Bath.
Simmonds put in a stellar performance where he made 13 tackles, 18 passes and 54 metres on carries, as well as scoring seven points with the boot in a 29-10 win in March.
Alex Cuthbert joined Exeter last summer and despite his number of appearances being blighted by a knee injury, the former Welsh international proved crucial in helping Chiefs secure victory against Saints in their semi-final.
Who’s in for 2019-20?
A big name addition is heading to Sandy Park next season in the form of Scotland’s Stuart Hogg who is making the move from Glasgow Warriors.
As far as signings go, Hogg is one of the most high-profile in Chiefs’ history, a two-time Six Nations Player of the Championship who has toured with the British & Irish Lions on two separate occasions.
The full-back will be joined by a pair of locks: Will Witty is joining Exeter from Newcastle Falcons and Tom Price is switching from Scarlets in the Pro14.
Who’s out for 2019-20?
Hogg’s arrival will go some way to softening the blow of losing Pumas livewire Cordero, who is heading to France to join Bordeaux-Bègles.
Ollie Atkins, who joined the Chiefs in 2015, is leaving to join Rouen in the French second tier, Jack Owlett is moving to Wasps, No.8 Tom Lawday is off to Harlequins, while Scotland prop Moray Low, who came to Exeter in 2014 and has made 70 first-team appearances and scored seven tries, has called time on his playing career and decided to hang up his boots.