Rob Baxter’s forward-thinking vision for Exeter Chiefs has tonight been boosted with the news that three of their highly-rated stars have all pledged their immediate futures to the club.
England internationals Luke Cowan-Dickie, Jack Nowell and Henry Slade have all put pen to paper on two-year deals that will keep them at Sandy Park until the end of the 2020/2021 season.
Having all come through the Devon club’s academy structure, the trio have since gone on to establish themselves as household names within the Chiefs ranks, each of them amassing over 100 first team appearances, as well as helping Baxter’s side to lift a first-ever Premiership title in 2017.
At international level too, the young Chiefs have also made their mark, featuring for England in World Cups and the Six Nations, whilst in Nowell’s case he also became Exeter’s first-ever British and Irish Lion when he toured to New Zealand two years ago.
The news that all three players want to continue their careers with the Chiefs is understandably a huge boost for Baxter, who believes that the best is still yet to come from them in the upcoming years.
“I know people have been waiting to hear the news on these three guys for quite a while,” said Baxter. “However, the truth is the talk on their extensions started pretty early and that they have gone quite simply.
“I know sometimes it must seem a little difficult when there is a lot of paper talk about players leaving or interest being shown in them, but all three guys said right from the beginning that their intentions were to stay at Exeter and that they wanted to stay with us long term.
“All it really came down to is just finding that right balance in that they feel appreciated here, and we feel that they are right value for us. To be fair, that was relatively simple, so we are delighted to keep them and we are hoping they can be a core element of what the team can go on to achieve over the next five or six years.”
With Scotland and British Lions full-back Stuart Hogg set to move to the Chiefs at the start of next season, Baxter is already piecing together a powerful array of talent to challenge on all fronts moving forward.
“What’s really nice about them, is that a bit like the rest of the team, they come together as a very strong group,” added Baxter. Individually, they are all very different and they have different strengths and weaknesses, but what they all choose to do is come together and work hard for one another.”
Keep holding of the trio is a clear statement of intent from the Chiefs and Baxter, who admits he is having to work hard to keep his future plans in line with that of the Premiership’s salary cap.
“It’s never got to a stage with these players where they expect to have the absolute top contracts available to them in the Premiership,” explained Baxter. “They all understand we have a strong group of players here at the club and that means across that group, that money has to be shared out accordingly.
“If they want to be part of a strong group, you kind of have to make that decision. If you want to be the biggest earner at a club, most times you have to move and go to a club that targets one of two players to be their top flight players. For our lads, we feel we look after them quite well.
“Now, I’m not going to run away from the fact that we spend to the salary cap, so what we spent on this group is spent, and nothing much can change. The good thing in this case is that negotiations with all three of them went relatively simply because they wanted to stay – and when a player wants to stay, all you have to do is find that happy ground where they feel appreciated and as a club you feel appreciated as well. That’s when you come to an agreement like we have in these cases.
“What’s important now for all of us is that over these next few years we give all of them an opportunity for to enjoy their ambitions, which is ultimately to be successful and to try and win things. They’ve obviously bought into the club for the next two years and now we have to buy into them and help them achieve what they want to achieve.”