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VIDEO – England starlets in safe hands at Exeter Chiefs

02 September 2013

  • Rob Baxter on the development of his England Under 20 starlets at Exeter
  • "Rip the shirt off a senior player rather than getting there by default" –  Chiefs Head Coach

Despite three eye-catching campaigns in the top flight of English Rugby to amplify years of steady progression in Devon, you get the impression that things will be done right at Exeter Chiefs with Rob Baxter at the helm.

When your Director of Rugby has been at the club for 18 years – 14 as a player including a decade as captain – it is obvious that there is “no rush”, as he puts it, to try to develop too quickly and lose your identity.

Photo: Getty Images

That principle is neatly encapsulated in Baxter’s attitude to his stellar stable of national Under 20 graduates, a quintet of precocious colts who returned from France this summer with England’s maiden Junior World Championship title.

Jack Nowell, Sam Hill, Henry Slade and Luke Cowan-Dickie (back row Joel Conlon did not feature in the final) started the 23-15 victory over Wales and while Baxter is proud of how the youngsters secure the future of the club, he sounded a word of caution.

“It was great to see how well they did in the England Under 20 side, great to see the involvements they had. But at the same time, we still have to be patient because other than Jack Nowell, they haven’t had significant Premiership experience,” explained the 42 year-old.

Exeter Chiefs full back Jack Nowell prepares to be tackled by Billy Vunipola

Photo: Getty Images

“They’re still young men and it’s important that they take a position in a Premiership team by ripping the shirt off a senior player rather than getting there by default.

“Jack did that last year, he went out there and his level of performance in LV= Cup in particular meant he had to play in the Premiership side. That’s what I want to see from the other guys. I want to see them demand a spot, because that’s what will be exciting for them.”

Nowell, named LV= Cup Breakthrough Player of the Year, is the trailblazer of the group, scorching his way to 11 Aviva Premiership appearances since November 25 to earn a place in Stuart Lancaster’s latest Saxons squad.

The Truro-born full back is the only promotion from the JWC winning group to the senior England set-up, with Lancaster, quite rightly, outlining that to be considered for his senior squads they must be playing regular first-team rugby.

For Baxter, who was seconded to coach England’s forwards on the summer tour to South America in Graham Rowntree’s stead, it is a case of when, and not if, these “quality players” come through – but the meritocratic culture at Exeter will dictate the right time.

Exeter Chiefs Director of Rugby Rob Baxter barks an instruction before a match

Photo: Getty Images

“It isn’t necessarily right to force a guy through because of what he’s done this summer,” he said. “What’s right is that he’s the form guy, he deserves the shirt and that’s what maintains the culture within the club. The guys are very aware of that, every one of them wants to work hard and everyone wants to deserve a position in the team.

“I’d much rather see Henry Slade demand to be the first choice [fly half] because he really deserves it and it really means something. It’s the same with all the players in the squad – let’s see if they can go out there and demand a shot.”

And the objectives for his Chiefs squad this season after back-to-back Heineken Cup qualifications and a worthy run at a play-off place last term?

“We’re pretty realistic about what we want,” Baxter concluded. “I think we’re very good at not setting too many short-term targets. We’re comfortable with what we’ve achieved so far, we’re not in any rush, but it’s always nice to be ambitious.”