Exeter proved themselves to be one of the most exciting sides in the Premiership, playing some effective attacking rugby that kept them on the brink of a play off place for most of the season. Sandy Park became the kind of place that teams fear visiting, as Rob Baxter’s men proved themselves to have the ability to mix it with the upper reaches of the division – no mean given the congested nature of the top reaches of the table.
And yet the Chiefs will feel bitterly disappointed to have finished fifth and so frustratingly close to what would have been a deserved play off spot. Level on 68 points with Leicester and Saracens, Exeter trailed Leicester merely on games won and missed out on fourth place to the eventual champions by points difference. An agonising and cruel finish to a league season that promised much.
A prolonged European Challenge Cup campaign was ended at the semi-final stage by eventual winners Gloucester, whilst they will consider themselves unlucky to have been edged out by Saracens in the LV Cup Final at Franklin’s Gardens.
Exeter ended up being the nearly men. Only fine margins stopped last season from being a sensationally good one.
2015/16 Season Preview: Exeter Chiefs
Geoff Parling (Lock, Leicester Tigers)
Olly Woodburn (Wing, Bath)
Michele Campagnaro (Centre, Bennetton Treviso)
Ollie Atkins (Lock, Edinburgh)
Shaun Malton (Hooker, Nottingham)
Will Hooley (Fly Half, Northampton Saints)
Harry Williams (Prop, Jersey)
Julian Salvi (Flanker, Leicester Tigers)
Josh Jones (Centre, St Helens RL)
Jonny Hill (Lock, Gloucester)
James Short (Wing, London Irish)
The stand out signings are those of Parling and Salvi from Leicester. Parling will come in as captain and will bring his imperious line out domination to Sandy Park if he can steer clear of the injuries that have niggled him in recent years. Salvi may prove to be one of the signings of the summer, with his superb work at the breakdown making him a key man at Leicester in his time there. Elsewhere Atkins may prove to be a fine partner for Parling in the second row,
Tom James (Wing, Cardiff Blues)
Greg Bateman (Hooker, Leicester Tigers)
Dean Mumm (Lock/Flanker, NSW Waratahs)
Kieran Davies (Prop, Nottingham)
Fetu’u Vainikolo (Wing, Oyonnax)
Joel Conlon (Flanker/Number 8, Saracens)
Ceri Sweeney (Fly Half, Pontypridd)
James Scaysbrook (Flanker, retired)
Will Carrick-Smith (Lock, London Scottish)
Losing their talismanic skipper Mumm is a big blow for the Chiefs. In many ways he has been central to much of their quality in recent times, and his return to his homeland will have been met with disappointment. The loss of Welshman James is also one that may have a negative effect on the side, as they appear somewhat lighter of finishing options.
In his four years at Leicester, Salvi became arguably the best out and out openside flanker in the Premiership. Exeter pounced when his contract situation at Welford Road became difficult and have landed just the kind of player that will benefit them alongside the bulldozing try machine that is Thomas Waldrom. If Salvi can maintain the consistent high standards he showed previously in the Premiership, Salvi will become a very important player to them.
Hopes and Fears for 2015/16
Exeter have recruited wisely, adding to an already fine side that would not have looked out of place in the play offs. There is absolutely no reason why they cannot go one better and get themselves in the mix for the end of season honours. Mumm’s commanding presence will be missed, but in Parling they feel they have the man to replace his leadership on the field. They will hope that he remains injury-free on his return from the Rugby World Cup and leads his side to their first semi-final.
The Chiefs no longer contain the element of surprise – everyone is now fully aware of what a good side they can be on their day. Their ability to take the game to their opponents away from home make them perpetually difficult opponents.
Exeter face another tight battle to break into the top four, but will be motivated and spurred on by their near miss last season. A top four finish would surprise nobody, but Premiership success will most likely be beyond them.