Exeter Chiefs head coach Rob Baxter believes his players can leave their very best until last this season as his side look forward to hosting Wasps in their first-ever Aviva Premiership Rugby semi-final.
Chiefs were simply unstoppable as Jack Nowell’s hattrick, James Short’s double and tries from Will Chudley, Julian Salvi, Phil Dollman, Henry Slade and Dave Ewers secured a 62-24 win.
It also ensured a disappointing goodbye for Conor O’Shea in his last-ever home game in charge of Quins.
Wasps now await the Chiefs at Sandy Park, who lost at the same venue 24-3 a week ago, and Baxter warned Nowell could be even more dangerous should he shrug off a slight hamstring strain.
“If a semi-final at home at Sandy Park doesn’t bring our best game of the season out of us then we probably don’t deserve to be there,” said Baxter, who will lead Exeter into their first-ever Premiership semi-final.
“That’s very much what I’ll say to the players, let’s be prepared to play the best game we’ve played because the occasion deserves it. We go there looking on good form both try scoring and defensively.
"Jack Nowell looked absolutely electric and that was on-one-and-a-half legs really, that's why we got him off early. He's had a slight hamstring issue for a couple weeks we've been monitoring.”
"Jack won't mind me telling you he's been doing his usual weeks of just being fit for Friday. He comes out and does the warm-up for the team run and that's pretty much it then he plays a game of rugby, but it seems to suit him."
Danny Care, Kyle Sinckler and Winston Stanley efforts made the scoreline slightly more palatable for Harlequins, as they dropped out of Aviva Premiership Rugby’s top six.
That means Quins must beat Montpellier in Friday’s Challenge Cup final to secure Champions Cup rugby next year and O’Shea issued one final rallying cry ahead of his departure.
“In my full first season here we finished seventh and won the Challenge Cup so hopefully we can book mark and finish seventh and win the Challenge Cup, but between now and next Friday no one will give us a chance,” said O’Shea, who takes over as Italy head coach in June.
“It’s gut-wrenching to see a team play so far below what they have and they can. That’s the hard part.
“We have a good group of players, I know my image of this group isn’t what happened out there but it’s the image we have to carry with us into the summer, unless we can show the steel of sports people.”
Harlequins 24 Exeter Chiefs 62
Harlequins: Brown, Yarde, Stanley, Roberts (Marchant 67), Chisholm, N Evans (Botica 50), Care, Dickson 61), Lambert (O Evans 61), Ward (Buchanan 57), Collier (Sinckler 48), Merrick, Matthews (Twomey 50), Robshaw, Clifford, Easter (Luamanu 61)
Exeter Chiefs: Dollman, Nowell, Slade Hill (Whitten 50), Short, Steenson, Chudley, Hepburn (Moon 50), Yeandle, Williams (Rimmer 54), Lees (Horstmann 65), Welch (Parling 52), Ewers, Salvi, Waldrom
Replacements not used: Woodburn, Lewis, Cowan-Dickie
Tries: Care, Sinckler, Stanley
Conversion: N Evans, Botica 2
Penalty: N Evans
Tries: Short 2, Nowell 3, Ewers, Dollman, Chudley, Slade, Salvi
Conversion: Steenson 6
Referee: Wayne Barnes