Good to see the Chiefs' stars get their Lions' share for coveted tour
Exeter Chiefs chairman Tony Rowe
- Credit: Tom Sandberg/Pinnacle
Well, I guess, there is only one place to start this week… and that’s last Thursday’s squad announcement for the British & Irish Lions ahead of their summer tour to South Africa.
After months and months of speculation, we now know the make-up of Warren Gatland’s 37-man squad which, I’m delighted to say, will have four Exeter Chiefs players amongst it.
Four years on from having our first-ever, homegrown Lion in Jack Nowell, now we can add the names of Luke Cowan-Dickie, Jonny Hill, Stuart Hogg and Sam Simmonds to that list.
For any player, the opportunity of becoming a British & Irish Lion is something that they can only dream about when they take their first steps into playing senior rugby. For our four lads, though, this is the culmination of years of hard work, dedication and development to reach the very pinnacle of the game.
All of them rightly deserve their selection, especially given the performances they have all shown over the past 12-18 months for this club and for their country.
As I’ve said many times previously, Exeter Chiefs continue to be a rising and dominant force, not just within the English game, but in the European game as well. Our double-winning success has elevated the club and our players onto even greater heights and this week’s announcement is testament to that very point.
Whilst delighted to see the four boys named in the squad, I do feel we could easily have had many more boarding the plane at the end of next month. The likes of Jack Nowell, Henry Slade, Jonny Gray and Tomas Francis have all been at the top of their games for some time now and I know they will be disappointed at missing out.
That said, I also know the character of our entire squad and whilst there will be the highs and lows of the announcements, collectively they will come together and drive us forward in our quest to retain the Gallagher Premiership.
Our recent wins over Wasps, Bristol Bears and, more recently, Worcester Warriors, underlined how determined we are to keep hold of our crown and with just a handful of fixtures left in the regular season – and now is the time for us to crank things up and really propel ourselves into those testing final weeks of the campaign.
In what were atrocious conditions at the weekend, our guys put in another terrific performance to overcome visiting Worcester. Up against the elements in the first half, we turned around 10-8 down, before running in 33 unanswered points in the second half to ensure we maintained out top two placing.
That fixture was, I hope, the final game in which we play behind closed doors here at Sandy Park. With the Covid-19 rate continuing to drop, alongside the uptake in vaccination by many adults across the country, we are starting to make significant progress in our attempts to get back to the new normal.
Obviously, this process will take some time and we ourselves will have to take things slowly and under guidance to ensure the safe return of supporters and customers here at Sandy Park, but I do believe the future looks positive.
Having supporters back inside the stadium on match-days is something I know, not only myself, but Rob, his fellow coaches and players cannot wait for. The two games in December where we welcomed 2,000 fans inside underlined just how much we miss that famous match-day buzz, so here’s hoping it’s not too long before we hear it once again!
Finally, I wanted to highlight the efforts of our women’s side, who wrapped up their inaugural season in the Allianz Premier 15s against Gloucester-Hartpury. Although defeated in their final day fixture 18-12, it has certainly been a season to remember for Susie Appleby and her side.
Having to put together a squad during the pandemic, Susie and her team have come together to not only ensure a top six finish, but at the same time show their rivals that moving forward they will be a force to be reckoned with.
Victories over the likes of Loughborough, Wasps and, the star-studded Saracens side, whose 33-game unbeaten run we ended, shows the foundations are there for the Chiefs Women to really go after next season.