Jack Nowell was delighted to mark his return to Exeter’s colours by scoring two tries in their convincing 46-10 win over Gloucester at Sandy Park.
Nowell, who replaced Sam Hill midway through the first half, played his first game for the Chiefs since December and celebrated with two second-half tries in quick succession as Gloucester were routed.
Sam Simmonds, Olly Woodburn, Gareth Steenson and Alec Hepburn also crossed with Joe Simmonds adding two penalties and five conversions.
Nowell said: “I’m so glad to be back as one of the toughest things to do is to watch the boys go out and enjoy themselves.
“I’ve had a bad run of injuries this season but every single player goes through them, although it was pretty disappointing to have to check out early on the Six Nations.
“My body feels good at the moment and the squad is in a really good position for having had the taste of winning the title last season, we know what to expect but want to repeat it.”
Exeter’s win takes them eight points clear at the top of the Premiership and virtually guarantees them a home semi-final.
Assistant coach Ali Hepher said: “We are still taking one game at a time and have done so since the season started. We achieve targets bit by bit – sixth, fourth and then a home semi-final.
“It was a very tough game and if you go round the dressing room, you’ll appreciate how much effort our boys had to put in to keep going right to the end.
“Gloucester are a very good side and had a great win in Ireland last week and for the first 20 minutes we were a bit passive but then we went through the gears.”
The Chiefs’ victory put a huge dent in Gloucester’s play-off hopes as the visitors remain in seventh position, five points adrift of fourth-placed Wasps with only three league games to play.
On the day they could only manage one try from replacement Calum Braley, with Owen Williams converting and adding a penalty, and their head coach Johan Ackermann accepted that a Premiership semi-final spot would now take some getting.
He said: “It was always going to be difficult and now it’s out of our hands but we still have a big three weeks coming up, with home league games against Harlequins and Bath and a European semi-final sandwiched in the middle.
“If we can win these it will be a decent season for us so there is a big responsibility on our shoulders but today Exeter were ruthless.
“We started well but our discipline cost us and you can’t play catch-up against a side as good as Exeter.
“Even after five minutes I knew it wasn’t going to be our day. Bounces were going their way, a few decisions went against us with forward passes missed so I felt everything was against us.”