It has been the shortest honeymoon period in club rugby history but Exeter are simply carrying on where they left off in October. Last season’s double winners have already won their first three Premiership matches and they marked the first game of their Champions Cup defence with their biggest margin of victory in Europe.
If the Chiefs did not always hit stratospheric heights on a wet, blustery afternoon, they had far too much horsepower for Glasgow, who could at least say they were the victims of friendly fire. Jonny Gray and Stuart Hogg used to be key cogs in their squad but these days it is the English champions who are strengthened by their presence.
Both of the Scotland internationals made it on to the scoresheet but perhaps the most conspicuous individuals involved were to be found in the stands. While the ground was sparsely populated, this was the first time any Exeter supporters have been allowed to watch since March.
They witnessed a typical dismantling of opposition who drew a blank everywhere, the scoreboard included. With a greasy ball and slippery underfoot conditions not helping, Glasgow also had to cope with the loss of their fly-half Peter Horne and George Turner to head injuries at a moment in the game’s history when such events cannot be blithely waved aside as minor details.
It did nothing to reduce the sense of a significant disparity in quality between the teams, regardless of the weather. When Jonny Hill and Luke Cowan-Dickie, two in-form members of England’s successful autumn squad, rumbled on as second-half replacements it further emphasised the gulf in class and the standards to which Exeter now aspire.
Glasgow were staring down the barrel almost from the outset, despite the occasional efforts of the French referee Matthieu Raynal to even up the contest by ignoring numerous ruck infringements.
By the time their first successful drive had brought the opening try for Sam Simmonds the Exeter forwards had already been held up over the visitors’ line once and were clearly licking their lips.
Simmonds can do no wrong at the moment and the European player of the year picked up another man of the match award to add to his bulging portfolio.
His brother Joe is right up there with him in terms of consistency and the latter’s conversion from out wide, curled perfectly over on the breeze, was about as good as goal-kicking gets.
On the day Gray was almost as influential and, once he had added Exeter’s second try, the only surprise was the hosts led only 14-0 at the interval. It mattered not, a delighted Hogg sliding over after a strong burst from Olly Woodburn before Exeter really cranked things up. Jack Yeandle, playing well enough to keep Cowan-Dickie out of the starting lineup, ensured the bonus point was safely gathered in well before the hour mark and further tries from Woodburn and Hill hardly flattered the home side.
With Joe Simmonds’ laser-guided boot contributing all six conversions it sets up a fascinating game in Toulouse on Sunday against opponents who were memorably beaten in Devon in the delayed semi-finals of Europe this autumn. The “double double” remains a long way off but Exeter look a squad who have developed a taste for the high life.
Maybe there will become a moment when all the relentless hard work and effort catches up with them but there is little sign of it at present. Most telling of all, perhaps, was the mutual enjoyment on the faces of players and fans alike as the team finally got to walk around and wave at real human beings after a big win.
Every club has been desperate to welcome their supporters back but for all connected with the Chiefs it felt like a particularly warm and fuzzy reunion. “I felt quite emotional when the lads came out and got such a warm round of applause,” said the coach, Ali Hepher, confirming his team are now hungry for more.
“Going to France is a fantastic opportunity for us to really test ourselves. You worry as a coach about a hangover from last season and the lads taking their foot off it but we’re now seeing an extra level of confidence. They know how to win games and deliver and their inner belief has grown to a new level. It means we can kick on and go after more trophies.”