Exeter Chiefs head coach Rob Baxter has today given a positive outlook on the club’s walking wounded during his weekly media briefing held at Sandy Park.
Having been without a number of frontline stars in recent weeks due to long-term injuries, it appears things are brightening up for the Devon club.
Hooker Luke Cowan-Dickie marked his return to first team action following a broken thumb at Worcester a fortnight ago, while the sight of Dave Ewers and Henry Slade both out and about in training this week is equally encouraging.
Meanwhile, locks Damian Welch and Mitch Lees are also progressing nicely in terms of their rehab programmes, although both are still some way from returning to competitive action.
"Things are starting to look a lot better on that front," said Baxter. "Henry was out kicking today, which seems remarkable where that time has gone, while Dave Ewers is doing a lot more and is not too far away from a return.
"At the same time, Luke Cowan-Dickie is getting himself back to full fitness and really settled in, Lewis Stevenson is also beginning to get really settled in, and we’re knocking the weeks of in terms of Mitch and Damo, so we’re looking at what could be a very exciting period of time at the end of the season where we should have a very strong squad.
"Right now, though, we’ve just got to get our heads down, knuckle down and make sure we are performing well now. We’ve been doing that and the lads that have been playing have done very well, but we’re looking for more big performances from them."
Certainly the sight of England international Slade out kicking a ball again is a huge positive, especially as it was only on December 5th that the talented playmaker sustained a broken leg and ankle ligament damage in the away game at Wasps.
"Henry’s still a way off because it was such a serious injury," explained Baxter. "And it will be weeks, rather than days before we see him playing again. That said, it’s fantastic that he can now work on rugby parts of his game, as well as his rehab work, because that means when he is fully fit again, his touches on the ball have been there and he will be up to speed that little bit quicker."
Although Slade has been forced to watch on from the sidelines, the Exeter midfield has impressed many during his absence and Baxter paid tribute to those who have stepped up to the mark.
"With Gareth Steenson, Sam Hill, Ian Whitten, Michele Campagnaro and Max Bodilly in midfield, it’s not like we have been lacking any quality there," said the Chiefs coach. "All of them have been going very well for us.
"All these guys coming back, though, we see as real pluses because over a period of time, all these games we’re playing are going to take their toll so it’s important we have guys who can come in. For me, it will be really interesting and really exciting when we do welcome everyone back as they are integral parts of the squad."
Although Slade, Lees and Welch still have a bit to go in terms of a full recovery, one man edging ever closer to a playing return is back-row forward Ewers.
Baxter explained: "With Dave we’re beginning to get towards the end stage of his rehabilitation and we are ticking off a lot of boxes. He did a bit of contact for the first time yesterday and he’s been our running and changing direction this week. We’ve obviously got one of two things still to tick off, but if all goes to plan we hope to see him back in contention for a place in the next couple of weeks."