ONE of the bright spots to emerge from the wreckage of last weekend's defeat against Leicester was the continued emergence of Exeter Chiefs' batch of youngsters.
While Tigers centre Niki Goneva picked up the man-of-the-match award from the TV broadcasters, Dave Ewers deservedly collected the award from the Chiefs' sponsors.
The No. 8 was pushed hard for the accolade by centre Sam Hill, who gave as good as he got in the midfield against Leicester's international contingent.
They were joined on the field in the final quarter by fly-half Henry Slade, who again didn't look out of place in the top flight as he continues to keep former Wales ace Ceri Sweeney out of the matchday squad.
While the opening half was as disappointing a 40 minutes seen from the Chiefs in a long time, it was very encouraging to see the future mainstays of the side faring so well.
Ewers made a real impact at the end of last season and has continued his good form this term.
The 22-year-old Zimbabwean is the man entrusted with the responsibility of taking over from club legend Rich Baxter in the No. 8 jersey, although he is packing down on the flank on attacking scrums to make the most of Tom Johnson's explosive power with ball in hand.
The former Ivybridge Community College student, who spent time on loan at Exmouth and with the Cornish Pirates earlier in his career, really started to make the most of his considerable size at the tail end of the last campaign, smashing opponents around in the way Chad Slade used to.
He provides the ball-carrying bulk to go alongside Johnson and James Scaysbrook in the back row and will take some dislodging from the more experienced No. 8s in the squad pushing for a place, Kai Horstmann and James Phillips.
Hill has quickly fitted in alongside Jason Shoemark, having bulked up in the last year.
He has always been very sound defensively – he put Matt Banahan down every time he got the ball during his first start at Sandy Park in the LV= Cup in February 2011 – but is now making his presence felt more in attack as well.
Sireli Naqelevuki and, when Luke Arscott is fit again, Phil Dollman will challenge for his place in the side before long, but Hill has shown he can handle the step up.
Fellow under-20s world cup winner Slade has not had the honour of starting a Premiership match for the Chiefs yet, but Rob Baxter has always said it would take longer for a player to develop in the pivotal position of fly-half.
The faith being shown in him by the coaching staff will pay dividends in the years to come as the first-class kicker matures into the role.
And with Dave Lewis finishing the game against Leicester at scrum-half, Exeter's average age in the key decision-making positions of eight, nine, 10 and 12 on Sunday was under 22. That hints at a bright future if they can stay together and continue to develop.
In addition to that quartet, it is easy to forget that prop Ben Moon – who made his debut five years ago this week against Sedgley Park – is still only 24 and getting better with his exposure to top-flight rugby. And hooker Jack Yeandle, one of four Devonians in the matchday squad, is the same age.
This weekend they will come up against another talented crop of youngsters as they make the trip to Lewis' former club Gloucester.
It will be an intriguing battle, but Exeter's up-and-coming stars still have a few years on their counterparts at Kingsholm so can expect to get better and better from playing against the likes of Leicester and Gloucester in the early stages of their careers.