Speaking exclusively to GiveMeSport.com, Exeter Chiefs head coach Rob Baxter and new captain Dean Mumm said the club will be searching for continuity, as they look to recreate their recent success with the new Aviva Premiership season kicking off next week.
No Premiership team have punched so consistently above their weight in recent times than the Chiefs. After promotion from the Championship in 2010, the West Country club finished fifth in 2011/12 and sixth in 2012/13, and are now one of the league’s most stable clubs.
They have one of the league’s smallest grounds (but most vocal supports) and have a collection of players lacking in internationals like many of their rivals, but Exeter continue to play Heineken Cup rugby for the second season running this year.
Australian Mumm - one of the side’s few internationals - appointed captain this summer, believes continuity is the key to Exeter’s success and that his side will be looking for much of the same again this year after a strong pre-season.
“We’ve had a great pre-season,” he said. “We were lucky enough to finish strongly last season which gives you a good bit of momentum coming in, meaning you’re not scratching your head at the start of pre-season, looking for answers.”
“The coaching staff have been really good about changing it up and giving us different things to do; we’ve been down to the beach a couple of times and they’ve just been mixing things up really well for us.”
Mumm also believes that not having as many players in international squads can be a blessing in disguise, as it allowed more continuity in pre-season training and meant that fewer players joined up with the squad late.
“Look, you obviously want players in your squad playing international rugby because it means you have the best players. But, the downside is that you lose them at important times,” said Mumm.
“We’ve had a consistent pre-season and that’s because we’ve had access to pretty much all our players throughout that process.
“We had a few guys involved in the under-20s World Cup, and they all did pretty well, and Tom Johnson and Rob (Baxter) were away with the England guys in Argentina so we’ve been really settled.”
Baxter agrees that this continuity is key to Exeter’s solid pre-season: “The guys have shown a really good attitude, trained very hard and we’ve had fantastic Devon weather for once so it’s been great.
“We haven’t had to integrate too many players as we’ve had a relatively small group of new players and we’ve been able to progress with our rugby very quickly.”
With a tough opening day trip to Northampton Saints in store next Saturday, however, Baxter is not taking anything for granted.
“We’ve got one final chapter of our pre-season against Glasgow this weekend, where both sides will be at pretty much full strength.
“But once we come through that, then whatever anybody says, we have a very tough game against Northampton and we are going to have to be on good form to get anything out of that game.”
Baxter chose Mumm, capped 33 times for his country, to replace second row colleague Tom Hayes as his captain this year - and Baxter is delighted with his choice.
“Dean has a lot of things on his side; he’s got experience both at international and Super 15 level, where he has captained sides and he’s the kind of captain I like in that he gets on with things and very much leads by example.”
The quality of Baxter’s work at Sandy Park thus far is reflected in Stuart Lancaster’s decision to invite him on tour with England to Argentina in place of regular coaches Graham Rowntree and Andy Farrell, absent with the Lions. It certainly appears to be an experience that he has taken a great deal from.
“It was a great experience,” said a beaming Baxter.
“They were a great group of players to work with and I really enjoyed with that coaching group. It was also a nice part of the world to visit and we won a couple of games so I can’t complain really!”
The focus for both men now, however, is next Saturday and their visit to Franklins Gardens. Baxter, in particular, is in reflective mood ahead of such a tough opening fixture.
“It’s exciting and it’s nerve wracking at the same time. You look at the table and everybody starts on zero points so everything is possible.
“There are no negatives to being in the Premiership, being in this league is great for the club, we’ve worked extremely hard to get here and now we’ve got here we’re going to work extremely hard to stay here and do well in this league.”
Mumm, meanwhile, just can’t wait to get going.
“We’ve got one more pre-season game to get though and then it’s Saints! That’s just a great way to kick things off and an excellent way to see where we are.
“During pre-season you can get quite insular and you think you’re going along well but Northampton away is an almighty test and one that we are very, very excited about.”
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