Jack Nowell takes Dry January to extremes, giving up alcohol entirely to try and regain England place

“I stopped at the start of the season, Leicester away was obviously the first game of the season for us, we had a few on the bus coming home, we got a bit carried away, I tore my hammy that week and I was out for another three or four weeks.

“I thought enough is enough, I want to get on the field and I want to play. My body is probably the best I have felt in a long, long time. The fact I have been able to play back-to-back games now is really positive for me.

“I have lost about 10kg from the final last year. I am back down to about 90 kg now and I am feeling good, feeling light and that is definitely my playing weight.”

Nowell has had a few niggly injuries, hamstrings, toes – too many for him to remember them all – but England coach Jones has not forgotten the all-action contribution the wing can make on the international stage.

“Eddie has always been in touch with me,” said Nowell. “He has spoken to me before each camp and he is awesome.

“The last couple of times he has just said ‘concentrate on yourself, get yourself back to where you can be.’ It is quite pleasing to hear that and to have that contact with the team still, I have always wanted to get back in there.”

Exeter, too, will be pleased to be showing signs of getting back to where they are used to be at the top of the table, making up for an out-of-character start to the season.

“We obviously stuttered with a lot of guys out so it was disjointed and a couple of steps forward and then a step back,” admitted Exeter assistant coach Ali Hepher, whose team are now fifth in the table and one point from the top four.

“We have started to put together some performances, especially winning at home, so it is pleasing to get that in the bank as we prepare to go to Harlequins and hopefully produce a performance to get us back up the league.”

Meanwhile, Bristol remain in the unfamiliar position of 12th in the table despite the losing bonus-point on Saturday and against table-topping Leicester.

“Little things are still costing us, but I love the way the boys keep coming,” said Bristol director of rugby Pat Lam. “That is two weeks in a row, with a six-day turnaround, we have fronted up physically and we have to do it again against another big side in Sale next.

“When you are where we are it is about getting the simple things done really well, putting bodies on the line and repeating it, so everyone knows what we need and they just have to step up to it.”

Bristol’s hopes of a return to the play-offs may have realistically gone, but they will be an increasingly challenging opponent for the rest of the season. Exeter head to champions Harlequins next, looking to underline that their challenge is very much alive.

Report: Exeter beginning to rediscover form of old with win over below-par Bristol

Exeter 19-13 Bristol 

After a festive period when it was announced Exeter had lost two international players for next season, it was the one who didn’t get away who won this as Stuart Hogg sealed victory.

After Bristol had pulled the scoreline back to just two points, it was Scotland captain who scored the match-winning try in a man-of-the match performance after confirming he will see out his contract at Exeter when a return north was rumoured.

His side’s third try also gave a record home crowd the chance to celebrate, providing signs Exeter are beginning to rediscover the pattern which took them to the top of England and Europe.

“It was pleasing the character we showed when we did concede the try and you could really go in freefall from then. We were strong and got straight back on the attack,” said assistant coach Ali Heffer.

“We scored the all-important try which saw us home. We would like to do it a bit cleaner but it was a massive movement forward, especially in terms of our attack with the intent first half.

“We simplified things, ran hard in the first half, created numerous opportunities, we have just got to now be clinical, which is all part of building confidence and level of performance right through the season.”

The irony of opening a new stand in these Covid-times stood out while games are being called off around the UK because of Covid cases and a debate over how long fans may be allowed in at all. An extra 2,000 seats, when the East stand is finished, meant a crowd of more than 14,000 on New Year’s Day who saw Exeter demonstrate some of their old form with a performance that offered more than the scoreline suggested.

Bristol could take consolation from the losing bonus point in another game where they battled all the way, but with confidence low they were unable to take the chances which could have changed the complexion of the game.

“We talked to the boys about hanging in there but we needed to execute better,” said Bristol director of rugby Pat Lam. “The boys had a go for the win but in the end took the bonus point. We are not far away, I say to the boys to keep knocking the door, keep knocking the door. It will come.

“I think in the context we will take that point, most teams would have taken it and there was a chance of losing it as well.

“If we were not showing up in the areas we need to show up then it would be lack of confidence, but it showed we have not lost confidence.”

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