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Van Graan sees 'massive room for improvement'

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Jack Nowell of the Exeter Chiefs celebrates during his team’s victory against Castres and they will now battle Munster for top spot. Photo: David Davies/PA Wire.

Jack Nowell of the Exeter Chiefs celebrates during his team’s victory against Castres and they will now battle Munster for top spot. Photo: David Davies/PA Wire.

PA

Jack Nowell of the Exeter Chiefs celebrates during his team’s victory against Castres and they will now battle Munster for top spot. Photo: David Davies/PA Wire.

The odds on Munster bridging an 11-year gap by winning the Champions Cup fell on Friday night, but Exeter Chiefs' bonus point win over Castres yesterday means they still have a job to do reach the last eight.

Johann van Graan's men were hugely impressive in their comprehensive victory over Gloucester at Kingsholm and are in a points race to try and secure a home quarter-final.

However, the win over the French champions makes the Chiefs a clear and present danger to Munster's place at the top of the pool.

They are four points clear of the English side, but their favourable points difference will count for nothing with head-to-head in play.

The two sides drew at Sandy Park, meaning Exeter's mission is to secure a 4-0 or 5-1 points tally to leap-frog their hosts into the top spot.

It is just as well Munster left Gloucester resolving to improve.

Liberated

It is increasingly apparent that their Christmas win over Leinster was something of a watershed moment and their two subsequent wins away to Connacht and Gloucester were earned with liberated performances as they put a difficult December behind them.

Peter O'Mahony is the main injury concern and the province will provide an update on his rib injury today. If he misses out, CJ Stander will lead the side at Thomond Park after a trademark barnstorming performance in England and the Ireland No 8 acknowledges that the Leinster win has filled the team with belief.

"It was big for us," he admitted.

"For all of the individuals, firstly, and for the team. We haven't beat them in two or three years. To come to Thomond Park and the boys put up a performance - we were delighted with that, especially just after Christmas.

"We'd a bit of a break here and there over the Christmas. It was good to get that continuity, it's massive for a team. It's good that we are getting that again. Hopefully we can build on it.

"Friday was a great game. They came out and they put us under pressure a bit. We wanted to come and get the win. We were disappointed against Castres away. It was something we worked on. Next week is going to be a massive battle again, and that's why we want to play in this competition."

Although his team have clicked in recent weeks, coach Johann van Graan sees scope to get better.

"There is massive room for improvement," he said. "We don't want to get ahead of ourselves. It is a very good away win in Europe, but it is only the third week of January now and there is a long way to go in this competition. We will have to play well next weekend and get a result to get to a quarter-final.

"But we want to take it week to week and improve. I think over the last 12 weeks we have improved week on week. We don't always get the result, but we are improving.

"Small things like goal kicking, which might have let us down last season or even in Castres away, guys are working really hard on that.

"Even our breakdown work against Gloucester. I thought our forward ball carriers came at depth and we held our feet. Guys like Killer (Dave Kilcoyne) and (Stephen) Archer are making good passes and good decisions.

"It shows growth, but the try before half-time also shows that you have to toughen up and just go forward. We have that also. We'll take the win."

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