Nowell hits the ground running for Exeter
British & Irish Lions Jack Nowell and Maro Itoje both made their injury returns on Sunday and caught the eye in match-winning outings in Europe.
“We dug deep to set ourselves up for next week.”
Exeter Chiefs hosted Castres at Sandy Park knowing anything short of a bonus-point victory would all but end their hopes of making the knockout rounds.
That meant Nowell, who came off the bench in the second and third Tests against the All Blacks on the 2017 Lions Tour, was thrust straight back into the starting line-up after a hamstring injury sustained back in November.
But the Exeter Chief looked like he had never been away and was the tormentor in chief from full-back as the hosts ran riot in a 34-12 victory.
Nowell, who was wearing No.15 but popped up everywhere, was withdrawn before the hour mark but not before he had made 138m with ball in hand, beaten eight defenders and scored the opening try.
That he also tossed in a jackal turnover at the breakdown gives an indication of just how good he was feeling as the Chiefs produced a vital victory.
He said: “I’ve been desperate since I came back from the Autumn to play for the club. I’m so happy to be back and playing with the boys again. We dug deep to set ourselves up for next week.”
Itoje – like Nowell a Test Lion in the historic drawn series in New Zealand – also made his first outing in more than a month following a knee injury sustained on England duty in November.
— Saracens Rugby Club (@Saracens) January 13, 2019
And the Saracens lock was his energetic self with eight carries, nine tackles and two turnovers.
But special mention must go to Mako Vunipola – a two-time Lion at loosehead prop – who showed yet more evidence of his all-court game with two wonderful try assists in Sarries’ comfortable 28-10 win over Lyon.
Mark McCall’s side are now guaranteed a quarter-final spot in Europe as George Kruis – another 2017 Lion – chipped in with a whopping 20 tackles in the win.
Elsewhere, Glasgow Warriors took a huge step towards the quarter-finals with victory over Cardiff Blues and Tommy Seymour – top try-scorer on the 2017 Lions Tour – beat four defenders in the victory.