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Chiefs showcased their bright future as Nowell and Slade rocked Toulon

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: December 11, 2013

By Mike Baker

Exeter Chiefs wing Jack Nowell powers towards the Toulon line at Sandy Park last Saturday, only to be bundled into touch by Mathieu Basteraud (right)  Dan Mullan/Pinnacle

Exeter Chiefs wing Jack Nowell powers towards the Toulon line at Sandy Park last Saturday, only to be bundled into touch by Mathieu Basteraud (right). Picture: Dan Mullan/Pinnacle

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Exeter Chiefs head coach Rob Baxter did not have to look to hard to identify the positives in the wake of his side's 14-9 Heineken Cup loss to Toulon.

Among the stream of kind words showered upon Sandy Park for the fearless brand of attacking rugby they exhibited against the reigning European champions, two names stood out.

Not that any of the Chiefs faithful would have admitted surprise as Jack Nowell and Henry Slade caught the eye of many a casual observer live on television last Saturday.

But even those nodding sagely in recognition of talent they had long since identified may have allowed themselves an inner exclamation at just how brightly the England Junior World Championship-winning stars shone against opponents boasting 825 full international caps between them.

Nowell was at the heart of much of the early pressure exerted by the home side, and only a saving tackle from Mathieu Basteraud prevented him scoring a try in the corner after just three minutes.

Fly-half Slade's involvement began after 20, when he came on for the injured Gareth Steenson, but his impact was just as profound as he stroked over a testing penalty from near the touchline to put his side 9-8 ahead.

Baxter admitted he always knew his young charges could take the strain of top-level European rugby, but that did not make him any less proud when they proved that to the rest of the world.

He said: "A lot of teams would have been dented by losing their number one fly-half so early on, but I think Henry stepped up and did really well. He showed a real maturity and I certainly don't think we had any issues with anything he did.

"That first kick he had from near touchline was an exceptional kick under the circumstances. For a young lad to come on in such a big game at that age and get that much game-time and perform so well is a great credit to him.

"Jack's a bit like Henry, in that you expect a lot from him and he delivers. He is a key go-forward man for us already and he's just getting better and better with the experience he's getting. The key for him is to keep his head down and keep working hard and try to play in as many big games as he can.

"It looks like the world's his oyster now. He's producing the goods and that's what we want from him."

All that was missing from either player's afternoon of work was their presence on the winning side, although there were many stand-out Chiefs performers who could argue that.

Ultimately, it came down to small differences, namely a Matt Giteau penalty and Jonny Wilkinson drop-goal as Chiefs failed to score in the second half, which Baxter will remind his squad as they prepare for the return match at Stade Mayol on Saturday.

He said: "If we could have broken out of our half a little earlier, it could have been a real game, and maybe knocked another penalty over, the pressure would have been on Toulon.

"But that's what you have to do in big games – keep big teams under pressure. I think we failed to do that for long enough in the second half to really ram home the win.

"We've been in the Heineken Cup for the past couple of years and have just gone toe to toe with last season's champions. And I don't think anyone would have been shocked if we'd come through on top."

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