The new season has yet to start for the Exeter Chiefs, but head coach Rob Baxter is already hard at work planning for the future with the news that two of his first-team squad have today agreed contract extensions.
Welsh international Tomas Francis, along with centre Sam Hill, have both put pen to paper on new deals that will keep them at Sandy Park until 2017 and 2018 respectively.
With the stock of both players have risen significantly over the past 12 months, the Chiefs have moved swiftly to tie down the futures of both players who helped to play a key role in helping the Chiefs achieve their best-ever finish in the Aviva Premiership last season.
Tight-head prop Francis, a summer signing this time last year from Championship side London Scottish, enjoyed a stellar first season at the Chiefs, featuring in 26 league and cup games and forging himself as an integral part of the Exeter pack.
His on-field form not only earned him rave reviews from the Chiefs coaching staff, but he was also named in Premiership Rugby’s Team of the Year alongside fellow Chiefs Dean Mumm, Dave Ewers and Henry Slade at the end of last season.
Welsh coach Warren Gatland also liked what he saw from the York-born forward and having called him up for training during the Six Nations, last Saturday he granted the 23-year-old his first international cap against Ireland and a day later named him in his World Cup squad.
Likewise, Hill – a product of the club’s highly successful academy system – was equally impressive in the Chiefs midfield last term and has also been on the international radar in recent times, featuring for the England Saxons.
It is little wonder that Baxter is hell bent on keeping such talent at his disposal and he has spoken of his delight after both players committed to the club.
"Tom has had one hell of a year," said Baxter. "He did very well in the Premiership for us and has been noticed by international coaches. He’s taken each step as it has come and I am really pleased for him.
"We want to progress with him as well so we have moved pretty quickly to extend his contract and that is what you have to do as a club. When you bring these players on board and they do well, the sensible thing is to move on quickly and keep them part of your club.
"It was an easy decision for us. Despite what some people might have thought about him playing for Wales and whether that would change what he wanted to do with us, he has been pretty determined to stay in Exeter and extend his contract with us.
"It was easy for us and for Tom, and I am really pleased he has decided to extend his contract. Hopefully he’ll be an Exeter player for many years to come."
Indeed, Baxter believes there will be more to come from the talented forward. He added: "Tom signed for us from a Championship club and has outgrown the contract he signed with us. From a club perspective, you want to keep that quality together for an extended period. I am a firm believer in when you have the players you want, you don’t want to go changing things.
"For Tom, it is recognition at how well he has done for us this year. It works both ways. We want to pin him down and keep the squad together and consistent, but it is also nice to say well done to Tom for the positive things he has done for us."
Equally, Baxter has hailed the impact that Hill has provided to his team, despite his tender years. Last season he formed a formidable partnership alongside England star Henry Slade in the Chiefs midfield.
"Of all the players who are starting to get talked about and winning international recognition, Sam is probably the most underrated," explained Baxter. "To have him tied to the club for the next three seasons is fantastic. Those are the things you want to hear about a club developing – that your best young players are committed to the club.
"He really wants to stay here and be part of the club going forward and that is fantastic for us. It is a great reward for Sam, who has just kept improving and playing well for us. He is a strong character in the group too.
"It is one of those which delights you as a coach – to see one of your academy guys coming through and is now a strong performer in Premiership and European games is happy to commit long-term to the club is fantastic.
"I hope Hilly is one of those guys that spend his whole career in Exeter and along the way will get international recognition. He has certainly developed physically in the last couple of years and he’s been a great professional since he’s been here and he has reaped the rewards and we have too. I can’t speak highly enough of him and how he has performed in the last couple of seasons."
Having tied both players down, Baxter has now hinted that he is keen to add other members of his squad to the extension list in the coming weeks.
"Recruitment is one of those things that is ongoing all the time, it never really stops," said Baxter. "We will be working on contract extensions now going forwards and start talking to some of our other players who will be out of contract in the next year or two.
"It is always nice to get players to start committing to longer-term contracts though. It makes it a lot more comfortable."