Looking back at the rise of Exeter Chiefs, a number of their ‘originals’ capture their journey perfectly. Phil Dollman is undoubtedly one of those, plucked from relative obscurity rising through the ranks to push for international honours.
David Challis takes a look back at another one of Exeter Chiefs’ greats. After the retrospective on Gareth Steenson now it is time to dissect the career of Phil Dollman from his humble roots in South Wales, to Premiership success in the South West of England.
Amateur Days in Wales
Phil Dollman began his life in rugby in South Wales growing up as many young Welshmen would do with a rugby ball in their hands. Having been capped at under-18 level by Wales the sky seemed the limit for Dollman.
Aiming to join the likes of JPR Williams and Gerald Davies in the Pantheon of Welsh outside backs, Dollman’s rugby journey began at Caerphilly RFC, the place of his birth. The versatile back also spent time at Bedwas RFC before professional rugby came calling.
Newport Gwent Dragons 2007-2009
Dollman’s first taste of professional rugby came at the Dragons in South Wales. Playing 38 times and scoring 17 tries in two seasons, the relationship between the region and player looked to be a fruitful one.
However, due to the restricted budget of the Welsh regions under financial pressure, Dragons cut Dollman loose at the end of his two-year contract. Dollman has spoken openly about his disappointment about his release. It is clear that the local boy wished to stay in Wales originally and believed in his ability at that level.
However, things did not go to the script Dollman intended. He found himself without a contract and searching for a new club in 2009. Exeter Chiefs came calling posing a daunting move for the young Welshman
Moving to the South-West
Embed from Getty ImagesThe signing of a Dragons fullback to a then Championship Exeter side was a relatively big deal for the South-West club. Phil Dollman was one of Rob Baxter’s first signings in charge of the club and signalled a statement of intent.
That intent was well-founded, Dollman alongside his teammates led Exeter Chiefs into the Premiership for the first time in their history. As big underdogs to do so they were expected to come straight back down. However, they did survive and survive easily, with Dollman scoring a brace against defending Premiership champions Leicester Tigers he had truly announced himself into professional rugby.
Premiership Consistency and Success
During his time at the Chiefs, Phil Dollman has amassed 240 appearances, scored 25 tries and slotted a handful of kicks. He has been a mainstay of the Chiefs side for almost a decade. Stuart Hogg’s arrival has been the only thing to break up his run in the side.
Being a versatile player, Dollman has been able to slot in around the backline, likely contributing to his longevity at the club. Mainly playing at centre or fullback, some questions were raised about his defence moving up to Premiership level. However, Dollman was able to answer these doubters in emphatic fashion, putting in dominant tackles alongside his dazzling attacking performances.
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Climbing the Summit of English Rugby
Playing in Premiership Final is one thing but scoring and winning one is another. Phil Dollman joined an elite club of players who have scored in Premiership finals. He dotted down against Wasps to see his side lift the 2016/17 final.
Dollman was one of a number of ‘originals’ from Exeter’s Championship days who played that day. For them, reaching the summit of English rugby is a monumental achievement. To have done so after being cast off by Welsh rugby is even more impressive. As many Exeter Chiefs players are a testament to, Phil Dollman has demonstrated that the journey to the top is not necessarily straightforward but always a possibility.
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Dollman has always been unlucky when it comes to international recognition. His only call up after under-18 level came in the summer of 2017. However, a knee injury in that Premiership final prevented him from joining up with the tour.
Across his Premiership career, many have clamoured for his talents to be realised on the international stage. The cupboard for Welsh fullbacks was always well-stocked. Pushing his way past the likes of Leigh Halfpenny and Liam Williams amongst others was always going to be a tough task and one that unfortunately alluded Dollman.
Testimonial Appreciation and Plans for the Future
In 2019 Exeter granted Phil Dollman a testimonial for his ten years of service to Exeter Chiefs. In doing so he reformed much of that ‘originals’ squad to take on the famous Crawshays Welsh invitational side. Many would have forgiven Dollman for using this opportunity as a fond farewell. However, he seems set on reaching further milestones for Chiefs including European success.
“I still enjoy getting out on the pitch with the lads and enjoy being a part of the changing room. Long may it continue”
Rob Baxter echoed this sentiment when Dollman resigned in January 2019. He said, “Phil’s been fantastic for us and is still a very good player”. Now filling a role behind Stuart Hogg at Exeter, Dollman’s first-team opportunities are now more limited.
However, as long as he can still pull on the boots and Exeter Chiefs, except Phil Dollman to continue in the south-west and see out his career as an Exeter Chief.
“Main Photo Credits”
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