Performance against Leinster proves Exeter Chiefs are worthy of Heineken Cup rugby, says Jess
Matt Jess is not content to look back on Exeter Chiefs' gallant performance in Leinster with pride – he wants to go one step further and beat one of European rugby's top dogs.
Jess was part of the side that lost 9-6 in Dublin to the reigning European champions on Exeter's Heineken Cup debut and that showing has earned the Devon side widespread praise for their efforts.
They came just a kick away from a 9-9 draw with Argentinian fly-half Ignacio Mieres missing a penalty with the last kick of the game. But buoyed by that performance, the Chiefs are keen to go one better tomorrow when Sandy Park plays host to its first ever Heineken Cup match with French giants Clermont Auvergne the opponents.
"It is going to be huge," Jess said. "It is going to be like our first ever game in the Premiership against Gloucester and I am expecting a massive crowd.
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"There is a different buzz because it is the Heineken Cup and a different atmosphere. The teams that you play against have internationals and people want to come down and see those internationals and as players, we want to play against those internationals and become internationals ourselves.
"It gives a new outlook on playing against different teams and hopefully it will be a good spectacle where we come out on top.
"I think we can turn anybody over and our performance last week showed that. It is on our own patch, our last game here was against Harlequins [which Chiefs won 42-28] left us in really confident mood and we have had a really good training week, so I don't see any reason why we can't beat them.
"We will put 110 per cent into it, plus a little bit more, to make sure we come out on top and get the points to open up the league table."
For Jess, playing at the very top of European rugby caps a meteoric rise. Just four years ago, the was plying his trade for the Cornish All Blacks in the Championship. Now he is rubbing shoulders with the very best on the European stage.
"Playing in the Heineken Cup is ticking boxes for me, but I want more," the former Cape Cornwall School pupil said. "It gives me that hunger where I have had to work hard down the lower leagues to get to where I am now and it is testament to the squad as well because without them, we wouldn't be getting into the Heineken Cup.
"It is a massive testament to the coaching staff and everyone here at Exeter Chiefs because it has been a whirlwind ride and I just want to keep on that rollercoaster, I don't want to come off it."
In order for that to happen – and to stand any chance of upsetting the odds and qualifying from their tough Heineken Cup group – Chiefs, in all probability, need to beat their French visitors tomorrow.
However, they can take heart from some good performances against French sides in the Amlin Cup last year. Rob Baxter's men were narrowly beaten 15-12 in Perpignan before beating them 31-14 in the return. Exeter then went down to Stade Francais in Paris in the quarter-finals, losing 22-17.
"You can't take your foot off the gas against French teams," warned Jess. "Clermont can play from anywhere and they score some really good tries, so we have to be aware for the whole 80 minutes.
"Last week was a great experience and a new experience for a lot of people and a lot of the lads, but I think we proved that we are worthy of Heineken Cup rugby.
"Mentally and physically we can say that we can go with the best, but again, this weekend against Clermont, we are going to have to put in another great performance and up our game again by ten per cent, especially with all the internationals they have in their side.
"Leinster are reigning European champions and we went there and fought for 80 minutes. We can look back and be disappointed, but we should also be proud of ourselves.
"If we can take that performance and add a little bit more, for this weekend then you never know what you can do. It can open the league table right up.
"We can't let our guard down. We know they are going to be an attacking threat and if we let our guard down with one little slip, then they could be under the posts.
"They will have their moments in the game and it is about how we deal with those. We dealt with those moments in Leinster and we did when we played Harlequins and if we can do it again, we can push on this weekend."