At least one could actually see the teams from the stands this time, unlike in the fog-bound reverse fixture at Scotstoun last month. It was also infinitely prettier viewing for Exeter’s supporters, who can now look forward to their side featuring in the last 16 of the Champions Cup after this ultimately thumping eight-try victory.
With a hat-trick for Tom O’Flaherty, a brace for the prolific Sam Simmonds and Luke Cowan-Dickie, Jack Nowell and Dave Ewers also on the scoresheet, the previously dogged Warriors were blown away by 38 points in 26 second-half minutes as Exeter found the extra gear that had previously eluded them. Glasgow can still qualify if they beat La Rochelle at home next Saturday but their head coach, Danny Wilson, admitted his side “collapsed” and described the final 30 minutes as “unacceptable”.
It was also an instructive night for the England coaching staff who had travelled en masse to Devon. In theory they were running the rule over Nowell, Simmonds, Cowan-Dickie, Henry Slade and maybe even Ewers and Jack Maunder. But mostly they were scouting the opposition, who fielded a good sprinkling of the Scotland side set to feature in next month’s Calcutta Cup encounter.
At least half of this Warriors starting XV stand a decent chance of facing England at Murrayfield and Eddie Jones, Richard Cockerill, Martin Gleeson and Matt Proudfoot clearly felt there was tactical mileage to be had in studying one or two individuals at first hand. As it turned out, the most eye-catching Scottish presence was probably the the 21-year-old flanker Rory Darge who is unlikely to dislodge Hamish Watson or Jamie Ritchie from the starting back row.
From Exeter’s perspective it was all highly satisfactory, particularly as the home pack lacked the injured Jonny Hill, Jonny Gray and Harry Williams and the suspended Alec Hepburn. Last time Exeter entertained Glasgow in this competition it ended in a 42-0 thrashing but in the buildup there had been genuine visiting optimism.
Exeter did not start particularly well here either, having been led out by the ever-reliable Ewers, playing his 200th game for the club. Glasgow initially looked the livelier side and deservedly took an early lead through a penalty from the outside-half, Ross Thompson. Exeter needed something to kickstart some momentum and finally found it when a slickly executed first-phase backline move put the nippy O’Flaherty over for his first.
With Glasgow brows still furrowed, Exeter scored again with Simmonds proving impossible to stop from close range. Suddenly it was 14-3 and, not unlike the visiting fans who had their bagpipes confiscated as they entered the stadium, Glasgow had to revisit their carefully laid plans.
It was a welcome bonus, then, when the lock Kiran McDonald forced his way over for his first European try and Darge further enhanced his reputation with a fine ruck turnover at the expense of his national captain, Stuart Hogg. The interval scoreline of 14-10 was a pretty fair reflection of a stop-start first 40 minutes on an unusually still January evening.
Glasgow, though, still had a flicker or two of life in them. Upfield they surged and a clever flat cut-out pass from Ali Price put Matt Fagerson into enough space to storm impressively to the line. Now it was a proper European ding-dong, with Slade enjoying a slice of luck when his overhit kick to the corner was touched in flight by Cole Forbes to give Exeter another useful platform. After Ewers had been held up initially, Simmonds drove over for his second to regain the lead and the conversion from his brother, Joe, compounded visiting frustration.
The rest was as clearcut as the reverse fixture was famously murky. O’Flaherty has a knack of scoring tries in big games and his hat-trick here deservedly won the winger the man of the match award. The energetic Simmonds looked in very decent pre-Six Nations nick and Nowell’s improving fitness was also conspicuous. The fit-again England winger scooted over for a deserved final try, Exeter’s sixth of the second half, and, with Jones due to announce England’s Six Nations squad on Tuesday, is looking slimmer and purposeful. Murrayfield could still prove tricky next month but for now it is the Scots who must head homewards to think again.