Trawlerman’s son Nowell out to land one of biggest fishes in European rugby

Jack Nowell, the son of a Cornish trawlerman, is out to land one of the biggest fishes in European rugby today.

The England star lines up for an Exeter club that was still playing junior rugby when opponents Toulouse won their fourth European title.

That was 2010, the year Chiefs finally reached the Premiership, when Nowell was a teenage student preparing for a life on the high seas.

“If you’d said to me back then that I’d be in a European Cup semi-final at Sandy Park against Toulouse I wouldn’t have believed you,” said the winger. “I’d have thought I’d be on a trawler fishing with my old man.”

Nobody would have imagined either that their heavyweight opponents today would go the next decade without a trophy.

Yet while Toulouse have regressed, Chiefs have gone from strength to strength – now four wins from completing the domestic and European double.

“We know our roots," said Nowell. "And our core value of working extremely hard for each other still remains at the club.

“But having just been happy to be in the Premiership at the start and to survive that first season, we now have real ambition. Having had a taste of Premiership finals we are greedy for more. The next step for us is Europe.”

On paper this is a David versus Goliath match-up; Toulouse in their 18th year of European knockout rugby, Exeter their second.

Chiefs were an amateur team playing on a dilapidated ground in the fourth division when chairman Tony Rowe first got involved.

But four successive Twickenham finals have cemented their position at the top of the English game and until Covid struck they were the sole Premiership club to make money.

It will be a long time before anyone in rugby manages that again, with no crowds and zero matchday income making survival the name of the game.

But Exeter have kept their focus superbly and Nowell insists they are now equipped to achieve what for so long was unthinkable.

“I remember our first final, against Saracens in 2016," he said. "We stood there at Twickenham thinking it was cool just to be there, were like rabbits in the headlights and got absolutely mullered.

“Things are different now. We’ve got the players, the experience of big games at Twickenham and for our country. We all want it extremely badly.”

Team boss Rob Baxter makes just the one change, bringing in Sam Skinner at openside, and warned: “This is the kind of challenge we’ve been waiting for.

"Toulouse is exactly what we need, the bigger the game, the bigger the name, the more we can be ourselves.”

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