Exeter Chiefs Director of Rugby Rob Baxter insists he’s edging ever closer to putting in place his squad for next season after two more of his current stars agreed new contracts with the club.
Having already tied up the futures of a number of his squad in recent weeks, scrum-half Stuart Townsend has committed his future to the club until at the least the summer of 2021 with a new two-year deal, while fellow number nine, Jack Maunder, has also penned a fresh one-year contract with the club.
The decision by the duo is yet more welcome news for Baxter, who believes the two youngsters will continue to have important roles to play for the Devonians moving forward.
“Stu has started a Premiership-winning final and Jack has played a lot of first-team rugby and been on an England tour already, and it is incredible what they have already achieved at a young age, but in the right way as well, because they have worked hard, and people are aware that if you work hard and play well, we don’t tend to have a big hang-up about how old you are or how experienced you are,” said Baxter.
“When you think about it, they have pretty much played all of their rugby while Exeter have been a top-four side, which is a great credit to them and probably to how well they have fitted in and how hard they have worked to be good players.”
Both players were first given their chance when Exeter suffered a scrum-half injury crisis in the 2016-17 season, when both Will Chudley and Dave Lewis were both sidelined through injury.
“Rather than us go out for injury dispensation players, we had seen them training and playing at their loan clubs and they gave us the confidence that these were the next guys who could step up and they would do a better job for us than us bringing players in, and that is great credit to them, they work hard and showed us we should have confidence in them, and then they thrived under that opportunity to play senior rugby and they have become key members of the squad.
“They are kind of what it is all about, taking opportunities while you are here as a young player, and impressing people with your attitude. You get your first foot through the door as a first-team player with the attitude you show when you are 15 or 16, it is not something that just happens when you turn 19 or 20.
“These guys were catching our eye then with the kind of people they were, and how hard they were prepared to work, and the kind of players they could potentially be, and that’s the first step really, and they have thrived from then.
“They have had their ups and downs but they have kept persevering and moving forward. They have both had some injury issues, but you will do as a young man in a really competitive position, where you do a lot of running and get through a lot of hard work, because we keep the ball on the field longer than anybody else, and that’s more taxing on scrum-halves than any other position on the field, and both those lads have really thrived in that situation.”
One of the factors behind the two players’ development has been skills coach Ricky Pellow, a former scrum-half himself.
“There is no surprise that our scrum-halves thrive here because of the quality of the individual coaching they get from Ricky,” said Baxter. “Similarly, I think our young 10s have done well here over the years because they get that real specific individual coaching from Ali Hepher.
“With Stu and Jack, they have known Ricky for a long time and they have had hundreds of hours of coaching, both individually and analysis of their games, and sitting down and going through hours of video.
“They have had a lot of input, and obviously they have got to be prepared to take that in and learn from it and use it when they are playing games, which they have done.
“I always like to credit the players for a lot of their hard work, but you have got to credit Ricky massively for how well these guys have stepped in and played frontline Premiership and European rugby.”
Baxter believes there is so much more to come from the two young scrum-halves, too.
“Jack is still at university and he has already played a lot of frontline rugby,” said Baxter. “Stu is a very young man and to have started a winning Premiership final, at the time he did and the way he did it, is incredible. They are key squad men as well. Stu is a big driver in the social committee here, and there is more to it than just playing rugby. They are good at that, but they are also really good characters and good men.
“I look at our squad for next year and I know one of our key strengths will be that most of these guys know each other, and we know them and we like the characters that they are. These two guys could potentially have 10 to 12 years ahead of them of top-flight rugby, and it will be fantastic if they keep getting better for 10 to 12 years, and those years are at Exeter, and that’s how we would like it to be.”