Monday 22 October 2018

Nowell warns against Leinster threat as Exeter target big scalp

Jack Nowell. Photo: PA
Jack Nowell. Photo: PA
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

There is a lot to admire about the manner in which Exeter Chiefs have built themselves back up from scratch and now having conquered England, they have their sights firmly set on European glory.

Like Leinster, Exeter have a 100pc record in the Champions Cup thus far but they face their toughest test yet as Leo Cullen's side arrive in Sandy Park on Sunday.

Exeter are flying at the top of the Premiership and warmed up for this weekend's crucial European clash with an utterly convincing 42-29 victory over Bath.

It follows important wins over Harlequins and Saracens as the confidence within the club continues to soar.

To add to the feel-good atmosphere, Jack Nowell made a welcome return to action against Bath.

The Lions winger has been out since October after he fractured his cheekbone and eye socket.

The nasty injury ruled the winger out of England's November internationals but having made his comeback, he is eager to make up for lost time.

"I've never been a good watcher, so it was good to be back out there again," Nowell said.

"I won't lie, it's been tough these last few months, but it's good when you do finally get back out there with the boys again.

"Our performance first half (against Bath) was awesome. We had talked all week about starting fast and that's exactly what we did.

"Steeno (Gareth Steenson) just nailed it on the head in the changing rooms, we went out there and didn't everything exactly the way we said we would.

"If we are being critical, the last quarter wasn't the best from us and it's something we can work on.

"However, it's another big win for us and it's set us nicely for going back into Europe."

Wins over Glasgow and away in Montpellier have Exeter breathing down Leinster's neck ahead of Sunday's mouthwatering clash.

Success Rob Baxter has done a remarkable job since taking over in 2009, especially considering that Exeter haven't followed their Premiership rivals by buying their way to success.

Calls are already being made for the 46-year-old to replace Eddie Jones when he eventually calls it a day as England boss and judging by the work he has done with Exeter, he may indeed be the ideal candidate.

While the club is very realistic in its approach, they are extremely ambitious and want to make a real mark in the Champions Cup this season.

To do so, they must make a statement at home against one of the tournament favourites but Nowell knows that won't be easy.

"These back-to-back games are important," he maintained.

"You don't tend to play teams back-to-back, especially Leinster, so it should be a good couple of tests for us.

"We know the threat Leinster pose. They are a great side and they always seem to turn up for the big games.

"For us, though, it's just as important that we turn up at the weekend. The boys have set us nicely for these games.

"We've had two great wins, especially the one over in Montpellier, and that has put us in an awesome position. Now it's up to us to build on that as the opportunity is there for us."

Ulster supporters will be familiar with two of Exeter's key players, captain Steenson and centre Ian Whitten.

Both men have forged successful careers for themselves since leaving these shores, which culminated in last season's Premiership success.

Steenson has played for Ireland at underage level, while Whitten won two caps for his country back in 2009, when he scored a try in each game on the North American tour.

The international door has firmly been closed on both of their careers but their stories that have largely went under the radar in Ireland typify Exeter's modest approach.

Irish Independent

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