After 22 rounds of top flight battle, the Chiefs were narrowly edged out on points’ difference by rivals Leicester Tigers and Saracens for one of the two remaining play-off berths.
For Chiefs players, officials and supporters the emotions following their final-day 44-16 success over Sale Sharks were somewhat bittersweet. Rob Baxter’s side could have done no more on the day, producing a seven-try display that ensured the Devon club equalled their best-ever finish of fifth in the Premiership.
In the end, a record haul of 68 points, 70 tries in the bag and 14 wins from 22 starts are just a number of proven indicators that the Westcountry outfit are continuing their upward curve in terms of year-on-year progress.
Yes, Jess – one of a number of current Chiefs who still exist from their days in the Championship – admitted it was frustrating at missing out on this weekend’s upcoming play-off semi-finals, but he knows the seeds of growth are firmly embedded for a bright future next year at Sandy Park.
“These are exciting times for Exeter,” said Jess, who collected two tries in Exeter’s weekend success over the Sharks. “We are going to have one hell of a season next year – at the end of the day we are top-four contenders.
“Yes, we haven’t quite made it this year but through no fault of our own, it was on other results and we could only control what was in front of us. Today was all about getting that win and for me that is outstanding.”
Although the Chiefs held a slender advantage at the break against Steve Diamond’s visitors, it was their second half display that lit up the terraces and gave – for a moment at least – a glimmer of hope that Baxter’s men could make it into the top four.
“It was a great way to finish in front of a packed out Sandy Park,” added Jess. “This is what we wanted, thinking of last year and the way we played against Sale here, we were pretty disappointed and we were well beaten well on the day.
“Today, we had the first half and two teams really going at it, but second half we showed our true colours. We scored some really good tries and really went after the game. We knew the scenarios coming into the game, but all we could do was control what was in front of us. It didn't matter what was going on in the background, it was about today and that's what happened.”
Lining up alongside a wealth of talent in the home ranks – much of it homegrown these days, such is the vibrancy of the club’s hugely successful Academy system – Jess believes the Chiefs will take much from the 2014/15 campaign.
As well as a best-ever campaign in the Premiership, the Devon outfit came within a whisker of reclaiming their LV= Cup crown, as well as reaching a first-ever European semi-final.
“There have been huge positives this season,” continued Jess. “For myself personally, I’ve really enjoyed the season, it’s been amazing.
“For the fans, every competition has been exciting and that is where we want to get to. We are back in the Champions Cup too and we can’t wait to see what draw we get. Your Leinsters, your Clermont Auvergnes – bring them on.
“And with the signings Rob (Baxter) is starting to make now, next year is going to be outstanding.”
But whilst the 23 players who featured on Saturday took large chunks of the post-match acclaim, Coventry-born Jess was quick to pay tribute to the collective squad effort that had been produced this term.
“The supporters only see it on the pitch, but I see it behind the scenes,” added Jess. “These guys are the pinnacle of what we are about. A few of them are moving on to pastures new, but they've all had a real input.
“They are moving on and hopefully their careers will continue, particularly if Dean is in the World Cup, but it has been outstanding playing with these guys.
“Ceri Sweeney hasn’t had too much game-time but he has been an outstanding contributor on the training park, behind the scenes and in meetings. And Fets [Vainikolo] will be sorely missed – but they have gone for the next stages of their career. It is a business and that is what happens, but I’ll take memories [of playing with them] with me and people can’t take them from you.”
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