Gareth Steenson believes Exeter’s ever-growing exposure to life in the Aviva Premiership is helping to propel the Chiefs onwards and upwards.
Now into his sixth season in English rugby’s top flight, the Irish fly-half is one of the Devon club’s more seasoned campaigners in terms of experiencing the weekly rigours of league battle.
Of those in and around him at Sandy Park, only winger Matt Jess has featured more times in an Exeter jersey than Steenson’s tally of 98 Premiership appearances.
It’s a fine stat for the Dungannon-born playmaker, whose 21-point haul at the weekend proved the key in his side’s narrow 26-25 win over visiting Harlequins.
But whilst Steenson is happy to shoulder much of the leadership responsibilities, the man himself believes Rob Baxter’s decision to blood the likes of Luke Cowan-Dickie, Dave Ewers, Sam Hill, Jack Nowell and Henry Slade from an early stage is now helping pay dividends.
Last season – and in years gone by – it’s conceivable that the Chiefs may well have come unstuck when Harlequins looked to press home their advantage during the second period.
Up against over 300 international caps in the opposing ranks and a howling wind not seen at Sandy Park for many years, Steenson praised his team-mates for the role that played in achieving the club’s fourth win in five league starts.
"Each year our experience is growing and growing," he said. "We’ve now got more guys within the squad who have played at this level for some time, whilst the young fellas also have more experience of their own having played quite a bit over the last few years.
"At the same time, we’ve also brought in more experience – we had Geoff Parling come off the bench today and settle things down – so we’re delighted to have come away with the win like we did."
Although Harlequins outscored their hosts 4-2 on the try count, Steenson’s laser-guided boot ensured the Chiefs were always in contention and having slotted four penalties during the contest, he was also able to convert both his own score and that of James Short in the first half.
"In conditions like that it’s important to build a score," he added. "Luckily, the penalties we had we’re right in front of the posts, easy threes as I like to call them. As I said, though, it’s important to build a score and over the course of the game it paid dividends."
Whereas Steenson enjoyed a stellar night with the boot, Harlequins replacement Tim Swiel was not so fortunate, failing with a conversion and late penalty in the testing conditions.
Post-match, Steenson admitted the Chiefs had rode their luck at times, but insisted he and his team-mates would happily take the points moving forward.
"It was a physical battle out there and we were slightly off in the first half," continued Steenson. "Full credit to Quins’, they carried well and they scored some good tries, especially into that strong wind.
"However, we put in a big effort ourselves and we were delighted to get away with the lead at half time. You could say we maybe didn’t deserve it, but you take it. In some ways we may have played our get of jail card tonight, but we’ll take the win and move onto next week."
Next on the agenda for the Chiefs is Saturday’s trip to in-form Wasps, who themselves warmed up for the clash with victory over London Irish in the London Double Header at Twickenham.
Steenson says he is relishing this latest showdown at the Ricoh Arena, adding: "We’re looking forward to going up there, Wasps are on good form, they’ve picked up some cracking results recently and they are playing well.
"Yes, they will be a tough side to crack, but we’ve taken another top four scalp in Harlequins and we’re delighted to beat a team just behind us."