GLOUCESTER'S 'most important win of the season' sets the standard for the second half of the campaign, believes captain Jim Hamilton.
The Cherry and Whites saw off determined and dangerous Exeter Chiefs 18-16 at Kingsholm on Saturday – to strike back into the Premiership's top-four for Christmas.
Six penalties from fly-half Freddie Burns was enough to subdue the excellent Chiefs, who struck the game's only try, through hooker Simon Alcott.
Gloucester slipped four points behind when Alcott notched his score just before the hour-mark.
But two late Burns penalties and increased territory control guided Nigel Davies' men to a vital victory.
Impressed with Gloucester's grit, totemic lock Hamilton now expects the Cherry and Whites to capitalise on their strong league standing in the coming months.
The 30-year-old explained: "This is definitely the most important win of the season so far.
"Exeter might be relative newcomers but they are a very, very good team.
"I said that to Jim Scaysbrook at the end of the game, and if we're honest we're delighted to come out of that with victory.
"They've just beaten Scarlets back to back, and they've got a similar mentality to us.
"They will be successful Exeter, just purely on the back of that attitude, but when you add in their quality too, they are a great side.
"We knew it was going to be a tough game, and I think they are the best team we've played all year.
"That's a great win for us, the conditions didn't help, and that made it tough at times.
"But just to get a win at home, with the points and how tight the league table is, that could be crucial moving forward."
Hailing Gloucester's calmness under severe second-half duress, Hamilton expects plenty more times this term where the Cherry and Whites will have to overturn a late deficit.
Saturday's victory marks the halfway point of the Premiership campaign.
The former Leicester and Edinburgh second row believes Gloucester can continue to improve as the business end of proceedings starts to hit the horizon.
He said: "It's going to happen in the season that we're not going to be comfortable – we're not always going to be winning games with ten minutes to go.
"Two weeks ago at Irish we were losing 22-9 and we showed character to come back then too.
"It's brilliant as captain to be able to trust someone like Freddie to knock them over from the halfway line in dodgy conditions.
"It's going well for us this year but there's so much more to come – we want to be scoring tries in conditions like that, and I think we can.
"I think we've done okay to good, and we keep saying there's a lot more to come from this group.
"We're not just saying that, we truly believe there's a good deal that we can improve.
"And there's some quality players still to come back into the team – Henry Trinder, Jonny May, Olly Morgan, Andy Hazell and James Simpson-Daniel.
"We've got some talent waiting to get back into the team, and that's great for the guys who have come in now because towards the end of the season we're going to need as much competition for places as possible."
Expecting another mammoth battle at Welford Road against Leicester on Saturday (kick-off 5pm), Hamilton said the midwinter months will make or break Gloucester's season.
He said: "We've earmarked this part of the season as a critical point – the conditions are always going to be poor at this time of year, and the nature of the teams we're playing means it's always going to be brutal.
"The fact we've gelled with character and that never-say-die attitude that comes in spades, that's something to be proud of.
"It's always a tough game at Leicester, obviously.
"It's a huge challenge for us, but it's great to have it and everyone's excited about it already.
"Our scrum was key for us against Exeter and we'll need it to be the same again at Welford Road.
"We're going up there to challenge and to try to get points and a result.
"We're capable, but we know we'll have to be at our best, and we also know we're in for one hell of a game."