No team has ever qualified for the European Championship knockout having not won one of their opening three games of the group stages. However, a very hearty performance by the Exeter Chiefs and the return of Jack Nowell might have just revived the home sides hopes. Taking on Castres Olympique at Sandy Park in good playing conditions Exeter began their game with some very expansive play, giving the ball air and simply outplaying the away side to enter half time with a 17-3 lead. 34-12 was the final score as Exeter continued their dominant performance in the second half.
These were the standout performers from this afternoon's game:
Jack Nowell - Exeter Chiefs
Making his return following some time out due to injury the British and Irish capped fullback slotted into the starting side seamlessly. His 138 metres gained with 11 carries guaranteed him the man of the match at Sandy Park as he was full of running. His return would have surely inspired his side as they now ill go into the next hoping to finally secure a playoff spot. Not was he only good on attack but in the process managed a vital turnover for his side.
Henry Slade - Exeter Chiefs
Defined as a pretty boy by the commentators the outside centre showed that he can get really dirty when needed to. Together with his centre partner Ollie Devoto (another possible man of the match candidate), they mesmerized the opposition midfield, causing absolute havoc with their strong carries and slick footwork. Nevermind that he scored a very clever try as he was not held in the tackle but it was his try assist for Tom O'Flaherty that got the crowd onto its feet. Inside and outside step to beat his opposite number left him one on one with the last line of defence. Following that he put in a well-timed grubber for O'Flaherty to chase and dot over.
Tom O'Flaherty - Exeter Chiefs
Certainly racked up the running metres this afternoon (90 metres) which included a very good grubber chase to score a brilliantly worked try. His runs down the outside channels posed a threat for Castres as he often broke the first tackle. This afternoon's performance by the 24-year-old will give him the much-needed confidence however his three missed tackles will still be a concern.
Maama Vaipulu - Castres
While it might seem as though the No.8's performance would have come in vain he definitely makes today's pick of outstanding performance. For the 52 minutes he spent on the field he managed to make the second highest tackle (11) and also carried with some great intent. His early substitution might would have reflected that the ex-Waikato Chiefs player would have emptied his tank following his performance on the park this afternoon.