LionsWatch Club Profile: Exeter Chiefs

The epitome of the well-run club, Exeter Chiefs have shown that it's possible to go from second-flight rugby to becoming a league contender - culminating in last year's Aviva Premiership final. [more]

LionsWatch Club Profile: Exeter Chiefs

The epitome of the well-run club, Exeter Chiefs have shown that it’s possible to go from second-flight rugby to becoming a league contender – culminating in last year’s Aviva Premiership final.

They were formed back in 1871 but it was in 2010 that they earned promotion to the top flight for the first time – beating Bristol in a two-legged play-off.

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Since then they have won the Anglo-Welsh Cup, reached the last eight of Europe’s premier competition, and last year made the Twickenham showpiece against Saracens.

While they fell short, it was a remarkable achievement for the Devon club, and after a difficult start to the season they are on track to make the play-offs again.

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Guardian rugby correspondent Rob Kitson has followed them closely through the years and believes they are in good shape to get back to the play-offs.

He explains: “They definitely had a slow start and they would admit that there was a bit of a lag after last season and reaching the Premiership final.

“That disrupted their pre-season and it’s also fair to say they’ve had a few injuries to deal with.

“But I think since they lost to Clermont at home in Europe (in October), they’ve looked much sharper.

“They would be the first to admit they are not stuffed with internationals so should do okay during the Six Nations.

“It could be they end up with a semi-final against Wasps and they know each other well.”


According to Kitson there is one man who stands out from the crowd when it comes to making The British & Irish Lions 2017 Tour to New Zealand – Jack Nowell.

The England winger came off the bench to great effect against France last weekend in the opening round of the RBS 6 Nations as he gets back up to speed after thumb and quad injuries.

And for Kitson, not only is he a contender to tour, he could end up forcing his way into the Test side on the right wing.

He said: “Jack Nowell, I think will be on Tour, and for me he’s got a very good chance of playing in the Test team.

“If you look at New Zealand, I think they will need someone on the right wing who is a good all-round player and will be able to stand up to Julian Savea thundering down his wing.

“I think he will feature more in this RBS 6 Nations, and think he might start this week.

“He showed just after Christmas in three games against Bath, Saracens and Ulster that he is strong defensively, can score tries and win those aerial battles, and Warren Gatland will be looking for that.”


While Chiefs don’t have a huge amount of regular international starters, there is a lot of quality in the squad to be challenging at the top end of the English game.

As a result there are a number of players who could yet force their way into contention as bolters in Kitson’s eyes.

He said: “With the nature of the club you can be sure that any Exeter players that do go will be good tourists. You don’t get many egos at the club.

“Players aren’t really picked on club form only but Thomas Waldrom has been top scorer in the league for the last couple of seasons while Gareth Steenson was their player of the season last year.

“Dave Ewers is one who I think would have been closest to Billy Vunipola as a carrier – perhaps with Ben Morgan – but he’s been injured and they tend to use him at No. 6.


“Of the young guys, Henry Slade is a really talented player and I think he’s been a bit unlucky. He can cover three or maybe four positions though which certainly helps his cause.

“And Luke Cowan-Dickie will probably go to Argentina so you could see him being one of the form hookers in the summer if anyone goes down (injured). He offers something a little different and he really is a handful.

“Then you’ve got Tomas Francis, who if he can get a start in the Six Nations against England it would be a massive game against Joe Marler.

“He’s very popular with everyone and he’d be a really good tourist.”


While Chiefs’ history goes back 146 years, their relatively recent emergence at the top of the English game means they’ve not had many Lions.

The city did play host to New Zealand on their first-ever match in the northern hemisphere though, all the way back in 1905.

From a Lions perspective, second row Geoff Parling joined the club from Leicester Tigers since going on the 2013 Tour to Australia, while Andy Reed also spent time at the club even if he was at Bath when he toured with the Lions in 1993.

Exeter Chiefs
Jack Yeandle
Head Coach: Rob Baxter
Twitter: @ExeterChiefs
Home Ground: Sandy Park

Rob Kitson is The Guardian Rugby Correspondent

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