Chris Bentley: We've got momentum back in time for our trip to Sale
FOR the history buffs amongst you who remember my first column in the Express & Echo, the topic was momentum.
The 'big mo' as I called it has a huge relevance to rugby teams. Being on a losing streak can damage a team – you're reluctant to throw the important pass, reserved in the big collision and nervous about making a mistake.
Looking at the results preceding the game with Northampton last weekend, we didn't have momentum. On the back of some very heartening performances in the Heineken Cup, the bottom line remained we lost. We had actually gone six games since our last win. A result was of the utmost importance.
Northampton were in a similar boat and had picked a team accordingly. The only difference was their heavy artillery was stocking the bench whereas the Chiefs had the big guns on from the off. By 9pm on Saturday it was clear the Chiefs had made the right call and the big mo was back on our side.
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A huge first half performance by the boys saw us run in three tries against one of the most powerful teams in the top tier. The confrontational nature of the scores was of real relevance as it showed we can out-muscle a team that had given us a dose of the same treatment the last time they came to visit.
The win raised the mood in the camp as we look forward to the resumption of the Aviva Premiership on Friday night with a visit to Sale. Other than Craig Mitchell – try scorer extraordinaire for Wales last weekend – we've got a full quota to pick from during the Six Nations period and there is a real opportunity to push on, keep the big mo rolling and set ourselves up for the season run in.
I know I'm one to bang the drum for the Chiefs but something very special happened on Friday night down in Plymouth that once again gets me up on the soapbox.
Every Aviva Premiership rugby club has an England academy. Each one picks the cream of the crop from the local talent pool and exposes them to the best coaching they have available. From diet to weight lifting, the academy boys are pushed hard to reach the exacting standards of the toughest league in the northern hemisphere.
These boys are, on the whole, the elite of the nation's rugby youth who feed into their own pinnacle – England under-20s. Having been lucky enough to make it into the equivalent England set up 14 years ago, I can testify that nearly all of the boys involved will go on to become full-time pros.
There will be players that take alternative routes to the top and there will be a few that fall short, but this really is a very good measuring stick of future potential. It therefore filled me with great pride to see five of the current Exeter Chiefs academy members in the starting 15 – had Jack Nowell not been running out for the first XV, I've no doubt he would have been there too. Considering that the other 11 Aviva Premiership squads only managed to provide the other 10 players between them, the true impact of the selection last week begins to resonate.
It's great that the first XV are really blazing a trail, but it's equally heartening there is a ridiculously strong pool of talent brimming just underneath. When you consider that our very own players were the man of the match (Henry Slade picking up the TV award and Luke Cowan-Dickie being the people's choice on the day) the future really does begin to look very bright.
Moving on from the young bucks, it's important we acknowledge the old boys too. Last weekend saw the first Exeter Chiefs past player's day since the move from the County Ground and nearly 150 former wearers of the iconic black and white turned up to enjoy the best hospitality that Sandy Park has to offer.
Having recently graduated into the ranks of the old boys, I was only a small cog in the wheel that got the day off the ground and wanted to use this column to offer thanks to everyone who made the day (and night) such good fun.
There is also a special mention for Bob Staddon and John Lockyer digging through their contact books and making sure we got players from all the generations on deck.
I also have to offer thanks to Bob for not giving me too hard a time after I recounted his involvement – or lack of – in a 29-man brawl that took place in his playing days when his input was to run into the mêlée and shout "won't you all stop it"!
Finally, being from the North West I feel a close connection to Cilla Black. Many will remember her as a great songstress of her time, but my connection comes through the pleasure in helping couples come together a la Blind Date. Just last week my 'Cilla' genes kicked in as I tried to do my bit.
I noticed on my Twitter feed that one of the girls from the office was enamoured by local rugby hero Luke McLennan.
For those unaware, Luke, while playing for local club Withycombe, put all of his medical training to the fore as he pretty much saved the life of an opponent who'd had a rather nasty turn on the field.
Such a feat of bravery had our Sarah all of a flutter and I instinctively got to work. Using all of my detective skills, I managed to get a hold of Luke's number and asked him out for a blind date on Sarah's behalf. Unfortunately our hero declined the offer as I think a call from a stranger may not have been the best approach!
So to prove that it was a genuine offer, Luke, it was me. And our Sarah would be keen to have a lorra lorra laughs. Go on a date or not. The choice is up to you!
Until the next time, stay safe and enjoy your rugby.