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Baxter’s joy as Stevenson makes Exeter return

Rob Baxter admits the return of Lewis Stevenson to Sandy Park "ticks a lot of boxes" for him as Exeter Chiefs look to advance over the course of the season.

With both Damian Welch (pec) and Mitch Lees (bicep) set for a prolonged spell on the sidelines following injuries sustained, Baxter has found his options in the Exeter engine room becoming somewhat stretched in recent weeks.

Keen to bolster his playing stock, the Chiefs head coach today spoke of his delight at capturing the 31-year-old forward, who made 62 appearances for Exeter during a two-year stay 2007 and 2009.

Larne-born Stevenson has penned a contract until the end of the season from Guinness Pro 12 outfit Ulster Rugby, where he has featured since 2011 following a two-year stint with Harlequins.

Commenting on the deal, Baxter said: "I think everyone is aware of the injuries we have picked up recently, particularly involving those guys who play in the second row. Initially when Damo went down we thought we would be able to ride through the situation with what we had.

"However, once Mitch got injured we had to re-assess things, not just in terms of getting people to play, but also to ensure we had enough bodies for training. Over the last few weeks we’ve really cranked up the training we’re doing and for us to keep progressing, I want us to have real quality in our sessions when it comes to training.

"Without enough bodies to do that, it’s always going to be tough. Obviously we’ve looked at the market to see what options are out there and once we knew Lewis was available, we’ve worked very hard to get him back here to the club."

Baxter continued: "Having played here before, Lewis knows the club and we know him. We’re very aware of the qualities he can bring to the squad and what kind of character he is, so he ticks a lot of boxes for us.

"As I said, we’re delighted to have him on board until the end of the season. We know he will come in and offer us a lot, but at the same time we’ve got guys like Geoff Parling, Ollie Atkins and Jonny Hill who are playing some fantastic rugby right now.

"Now he’s here, we’ll look to get him up to speed as quickly as we can and get him involved and ready for what we know is going to be a big period of games for the club."

In welcoming Stevenson back to Devon, Baxter has also praised Ulster for their contribution in helping the deal to go through.

"I have to thanks Ulster for their efforts and ensuring the deal has gone through," said Baxter. "They could have been well within their rights to do nothing, but they haven’t done that and they’ve worked very closely with us in getting everything tied up pretty quickly."

Stevenson is due to join up with the Chiefs squad for the first time tomorrow as they prepare their build-up for Sunday’s return to Aviva Premiership action away to Worcester Warriors.

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