Exeter Chiefs head coach Rob Baxter has praised the contribution Gareth Steenson has played in helping the Devon club establish themselves as a force within the English game.
Welcoming the news the Irish fly-half has this week agreed terms on a new three-year deal that will keep him at Sandy Park until 2018, Baxter wasted little time in reflecting on the contribution put in by the Dungannon-born back.
"There’s no magic ingredient," said Baxter. "Steeno has improved over a period because his gained more and more experience in the Premiership and in Europe and those experiences are vital in creating a top-quality player.
"Aligned to that he’s worked extremely hard. As Ali said after the Saracens game when he was talking about his kicking, he goes out, practises and puts the time in. He’s meticulous with it.
"He and we have reaped the rewards from that, it makes him a very important member of the team and it’s helped us massively in our time in the Premiership.
"On top of his kicking there are elements of his game that are improving all the time. He’s had to make himself go out and do that. His defence this year has been the big marker for me that’s noticeably improved. We don’t hide him on the wing, we don’t shield him at all, he stands there in the 10 channel and takes whatever’s coming and done it very well."
But it’s in other areas as well that Baxter believes the former Rotherham and Cornish Pirates playmaker has offered so much to the cause.
He added: "He provides a real direction and leadership in what we do in attack. Some of his play attacking the line and where he makes his passes and the way he comes onto the ball are things Ali has worked very hard on with him and he’s taking it all on board.
"At the moment he’s bang on form and what we’re hoping and expecting from him is that by signing a long-term commitment to the club we see that level of improvement continuing in the future."
Steenson’s metronomic boot has not only taken him to the top of the current Premiership points tally, but he now sits a comfortable second in the all-time record for the Chiefs. With a further three years to go at least at Exeter, there is no doubt the 30-year-old will be eyeing up Tony Yapp’s spot at No.1.
"Your fly-halves are like the quarter-backs in an American football team – they’re the players the success and failure of your club can rely upon," added Baxter. "With the guys we’ve got here, with Steeno, Henry and Ceri, we’ve got very good quality people. That’s as big a key as anything, having people who believe in the club ethos and the club culture and help drive that forward as well.
"Steeno’s been a very important part of that for a long time – longer than nearly anybody – and that is a key thing because when he’s confident, playing well and on top of his game there’s no doubt it rubs off on the team," said Baxter.
"What we’re seeing with this group of players at the moment is their confidence, desire and attitude is rubbing off on each other and flowing through the team. That’s the kind of thing we’ve got to make sure we maintain, foster and work hard at over the rest of the season because the biggest factor on where the rest of this season goes is where we go mentally."
Steenson’s decision to stay at Sandy Park follows hot on the heels of fellow back Phil Dollman recently committing his future to the club. Others within the current ranks are also expected to follow suit in the coming weeks.