Years in Top Tier: 3
Last Year: 6th in Prem (59 Points), Group Stage in Heineken Cup and Anglo-Welsh Cup
Europe: Heineken Cup
Director of Rugby: Rob Baxter
In: Tom James (Cardiff), Dave Lewis (Gloucester), Ceri Sweeney (Cardiff Blues), Fetu’u Vainikolo (Cannacht), Greg Bateman (London Welsh), Don Armand (Stormers), Romana Graham (Waikato Chiefs)
Out: Aly Muldowny (Connacht), Ignacio Mieres (Worcester), Simon Alcott (Retiring), Myles Dorrian (London Irish), Gonzalo Camacho (Leicester), Watsoni Votu (Perpignan), Neil Clarke (Oyonnax), Richie Baxter (Retiring), Kevin Barrett (Retiring – Saracens Strength & Conditioning), Chris Budgen (Retiring), Mark Foster (Jersey), Josh Tatupu (Carcassone), Nic Sestaret (Unknown), Junior Poluleuligaga (Auckland)
This will only be Exeter’s 4th season in the top tier of English rugby; but what they lack in history they make up in ability.
Since Stuart Barnes’s famous predication that they wouldn’t win a single game after promotion Exeter have gained a handy habit of giving the London –centric dead tree press a bloody nose. Every year they predict that Exeter will be “found out” as if they don’t belong here.
Well I’m having none of that. Exeter bases their game on first principles of strong set piece and go forward ball. They have added a more attacking element to their play and are one of the few teams who can be said to be constantly evolving their style of play.
No major transfers point to a settled squad but look out for lock Romana Graham and flanker Don Armand who might finally break into Exeter’s incredibly settled back 5 of the scrum. In the backs Fetu’u Vainikolo and Tom James will be looking to push Jack Nowell and Matt Jess to even better performances and possibly covering for any international calls that can’t be far from coming, for Nowell in particular.
Losing Ignacio Mieres and replacing him with Ceri Sweeney doesn’t bode too well as Mieres had been crucial to their wider game plan, but Steenson was playing that style well towards the back end of the season, so this might be yet another canny bit of business from head honcho Rob Baxter.
The top 4 is pretty settled at the moment but Exeter could certainly get into the Play Offs with some luck. However with Bath’s recruitment drive I think Exeter might just have to settle for another year in the Heineken Cup, should it still exist, instead.