Jack's back and raring to go
By Mark Stevens
Jack Nowell has spoken of the importance of this next fortnight as Exeter Chiefs look to make real inroads towards advancing in this season's European Champions Cup.
Victories over Glasgow Warriors at home and then in Montpellier a week later have given Rob Baxter's side a perfect start to their latest European campaign in Pool 3.
But as good as the Chiefs have been, this weekend's rivals Leinster have been just as good, recording bonus point victories over both Montpellier (home) and then Glasgow (away) to head things up after two rounds.
This Sunday, however, the Chiefs will welcome the three-times champions to Sandy Park in the first of an exciting double-header - and England and British Lions star Nowell says it's a brace of games he and his team-mates are clearly relishing.
"These back-to-back games are important," he said. "You don't tend to play teams back-to-back, especially Leinster, so it should be a good couple of tests for us."
The Chiefs, though, will head into Sunday's showdown pumped full of confidence having accrued three huge victories in the Premiership in recent weeks against Harlequins, Saracens and Bath.
The latter of those games saw Cornishman Nowell return to the first team ranks for the first time in eight weeks after he sustained small fractures to his cheekbone and eye socket in the home win over Newcastle Falcons at the start of October.
Nowell appeared off the bench during Exeter's 42-29 victory over Bath at the weekend, a result which saw the Chiefs extend their lead at the top of the Premiership table to that of eight points from next-best Gloucester.
Such form has got the pundits waxing lyrical about Baxter's side, but Nowell insists no one inside the Chiefs camp is getting carried away with things, particularly with the visit of Leinster next on the agenda.
"We know the threat Leinster pose," added Nowell. "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."
For sure, Nowell is highly likely to figure in the Exeter game plan for both games. However, the 24-year-old knows he has a fight on his hand to wrestle back a first team starting spot, especially given the form of so many others during his recent absence.
"I've never been a good watcher, so it's good to be back out there again," said Nowell. "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 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."