Exeter Chiefs wing Jack Nowell relishing Champions Cup challenge
England Grand Slam winner Jack Nowell hopes to continue his "pretty special" season on Saturday by helping Exeter write another memorable chapter in their remarkable recent history.
Just six years after clinching promotion from the RFU Championship to English rugby's top-flight, victory over Wasps this weekend would edge Exeter one step closer towards a possible European and domestic double.
A European Champions Cup semi-final place is the prize on offer at Coventry's Ricoh Arena - a ground where Exeter have already won this season - and just three weeks after helping England land a first Six Nations Grand Slam since 2003, Chiefs wing Nowell again means business.
"As a youngster when I was watching teams growing up, being in the position we are in the Aviva Premiership table now, being in the Champions Cup quarter-finals and winning the Six Nations is stuff that I would dream of," he said.
"For it to be happening is pretty special.
"We have worked hard to get ourselves in the position that we have now, and t his weekend is another stepping stone.
"A couple of years ago, having the big teams down at Sandy Park, we could have said it was just about playing those games, the atmosphere and occasion.
"This season, we have really pushed forward. We had Clermont Auvergne here this year, for instance, and picked up a win.
"We are a close bunch of boys - we enjoy spending time with each other. If we are not on the training field, then most of the time we are out in town together. We bounce off each other as a team."
Wasps now await in front of a potential 25,000 crowd - on the corresponding April weekend six years ago, Exeter beat Championship play-off opponents Doncaster with 4,000 watching - and it has all the ingredients to be an epic contest between the Premiership's current second and third-placed clubs who could easily meet again in this season's title play-offs next month.
"They (Wasps) are a very dangerous team," Nowell added.
"You can just watch any single game they play, and their backs are extremely dangerous. They can create something out of nothing.
"Our defence is going to be a massive part of our game, but hopefully we can force them to do stuff with our defence that they are not quite comfortable with."
Nowell's return to the domestic arena against Worcester last weekend followed a highly-impressive Six Nations campaign when England bounced back under new head coach Eddie Jones from their spectacular World Cup flop earlier this season that ended Stuart Lancaster's reign.
The 22-year-old's work in attack and defence for England won considerable praise, but with a three-Test Australia tour looming this summer and Exeter pushing powerfully on the home front, he knows there will be no let-up.
"It was a lot more relaxed around camp," said Nowell, reflecting on the Six Nations triumph.
"Eddie likes to have a bit of banter with the boys, and there are a few boys who he likes to pick on now and again - James Haskell, obviously - although he gives as good as he gets, so he had a couple of good comebacks.
"Sometimes it's hard when you are in the hotel with all the boys to switch off and stop worrying about rugby. This year we were able to do that and get out of the hotel. We were down in Bath one weekend, and Kensington as well.
"It (winning the Grand Slam) was an amazing moment. We worked extremely hard to do that and to come out the other side of a disappointing World Cup.
"The clearest thing now is that once we were back at our clubs, the reason we got picked in the first place was how we were playing before we left. Eddie left us with a clear message that nothing is going to change about that.
"He will pick the squad for the Australia tour on people's form for their clubs now. It was very clear for every single player to go back and play well for their teams.
"You almost have to forget about what's happened before, forget about England and just focus on playing well for your club. That's easy for myself and the other Exeter boys because we are in an awesome position in both competitions."