With the Rugby World Cup edging ever closer, I take a look at the Exeter Chiefs who will be representing their countries in the tournament.
At the time of the last World Cup in 2011, Exeter had just completed their first season in the top flight. They finished a very respectable 8th in the table. Leeds Carnegie were relegated, Saracens crowned champions, and now retired Tommy Hayes was captain of the team from Devon. The remarkable rise of the Chiefs is to be admired, and their formula for success should be emulated by any newly promoted side.
Exeter Chiefs Rugby World Cup Watch
There will be seven players representing their country in the World Cup who play for the Chiefs. Rewind four years, and four of them wouldn’t have even made their professional debuts, and the other three wouldn’t be playing their rugby at Sandy Park. Along with the players representing the club, Sandy Park will also play a pinnacle role in the tournament, being a host venue and home to three matches.
Three players are a part of the England squad: Jack Nowell, Henry Slade and new signing Geoff Parling are the trio representing England. Nowell has nine caps and four tries to his name. Two of them came in England’s mouth-watering 55-35 win over France in this year’s Six Nations. Slade has just the one cap; it came in England’s 19-14 World Cup warm-up win over France, when he was named man of the match for his sterling effort thanks to his heavy involvement in two of the tries. Most experienced of the trio is of course Geoff Parling. With 24 caps to his name, and representation of the British & Irish Lions also on his resume, he is without doubt a pivotal player for both England, and the Exeter Chiefs. Parling starts on Friday versus the Fijians. I was told by a couple of the Chiefs players in May that they felt he had a good chance of being the new club captain, replacing Captain Fantastic Dean Mumm, who left this summer to fulfil his ambition of playing in the World Cup for his native Australia. Mumm has since been named in their World Cup squad.
Three players were unfortunate to miss out. Luke Cowan-Dickie was in the training squad, but fell short of the final 31-man squad. Thomas Waldrom also missed out, with Lancaster feeling that only two Number 8’s were necessary for the entirety of the training camp, despite Waldrom crossing the whitewash 16 times in the league last season. Dave Ewers, a player who was named in the Aviva Premiership team of the season, also failed to secure a place in the training group.
Outside-centre Michele Campagnaro will represent Italy in the World Cup. Having signed for the Chiefs in February, he is set to play an important role in Italy’s chances of any success. Campagnaro has 14 caps to his name, and has gone under the posts four times. The 22-year old made his international debut in Italy’s 23-15 loss to Wales in the 2014 Six Nations, scoring both tries for the Azzurri and being named man of the match.
Tonga have hooker Elvis Taione in their ranks. The 32-year old has made 18 appearances for his country since his debut in 2012. Although more of a backup player for the Chiefs, with Cowan-Dickie and Jack Yeandle being the preferred choices at hooker, he has certainly made an impact when given the opportunity. Notably he scored a try in Exeter’s 30-22 away win versus Leicester in the semi-final of the LV= Cup.
Namibia have once again selected 27-year old fullback Chrysander Botha in their World Cup squad. In the 2011 tournament, Botha played all four games scoring one try. He has 34 international caps, and 155 points, including 16 tries. Botha is their third all-time leading point scorer. In Namibia’s 17-13 loss to Canada last November, he broke his leg and dislocated his ankle; injuries that sidelined him for the remainder of the season. I also spoke to him in May and he said his leg was feeling good, and that he was looking forward to the months ahead of him with his national side.
Wales have called upon prop Tomas Francis. Francis was named tighthead of the year in the Aviva Premiership awards and subsequently made the team of the season. He is another Chiefs player who is inexperienced on the international stage. His debut came at the end of last month in Wales’ 16-10 victory over the Irish, and has since won another cap. The chances of him making the squad were good, but by no means certain. After the last match of the season at home to Sale, I wished him luck in the World Cup. He could only smile and laugh at the comment, knowing that he was in contention, but not a guaranteed player. Credit must go to Rob Baxter and the rest of the coaching staff for how they’ve helped his development as a player.
So there they are, the seven Exeter players who will represent their country in this year’s Rugby World Cup. I’m sure the tomahawk chop will be ringing around stadiums by overzealous Chiefs fans as each of them takes the field of play.