Exeter Chiefs head coach Rob Baxter believes new signing Geoff Parling can have a "positive influence" on and off the field at Sandy Park after he today agreed terms with the Aviva Premiership club.
The England and British Lions lock, who has penned a two-year deal with the Chiefs, joins from league rivals Leicester Tigers, where he has amassed 89 appearances in total since signing in 2009 from former club Newcastle Falcons.
As one of two new arrivals confirmed by Baxter today, the other being Bath speedster Olly Woodburn, Baxter believes he has recruited two proven, top-flight performers to his squad ahead of the 2015/16 season.
Commenting on the arrival of Parling, who has won 21 caps for England and three more for the Lions during their victorious 2013 tour to Australia, Baxter said: "During our time in the Premiership we’ve slowly looked to add quality and experience to the squad.
"Sometimes that happens by developing and working with your own players and them improving over time in the Premiership and Heineken Cup etc, but at the same time it’s also important in key positions to add quality and experience and I think that’s what Geoff does.
"There’s no secret that this season we have looked a bit light in the second-row department at times and Geoff is a proven international performer. He adds great experience in running things like the line-out, he has got good leadership experience as well and all those things add up to it being a very good signing for us.
"I’m expecting him to have a very positive influence on and off the pitch in how he helps the team prepare for big games and his experience of what needs to be a done at a certain time.
"He’s one of those guys who is at the right time in his career to help us more forward as a team, he’s still very ambitious to keep working hard and try to improve his game, that’s one of the nice things when you talk to him that he wants to keep developing and add some facets to his game. If he can add some stuff to his game, add some stuff to our game, help our players around him become better players and do things in a better way I think all-round it’s going to be a very good signing for us."
Although Parling is currently sidelined with a knee injury sustained playing for the Tigers in last weekend’s European Champions’ Cup defeat to Ulster – and has also been sidelined this term with concussion, Baxter and the Chiefs have no concerns over the long-term fitness of the talented second-row.
"As with most players we’ve done a full medical and we don’t have any concerns about his physical state," added Baxter. "He’s just like a lot of guys who get to just over 30 and have played a fair bit of rugby, there’s a few miles on the clock but physically he’s in very good condition really.
"When you analyse his games he’s got a fantastic engine, his work-rate is very good, he’s involved in large portions of the game for Leicester and for England with big tackle counts and you can watch with the way he moves about the pitch that he’s very good at being in the right place at the right time, he’s got a very good rugby brain and reads the flow of the game very well.
"We’re not concerned with any injury issues. Yes he’s been a bit unfortunate this season that he’s picked up a couple of bangs to the head and he picked up a relatively minor knee injury last weekend, but that’s part and parcel of being a professional rugby player. We’re very comfortable with the way he looks physically at the moment."
Although Parling and Woodburn signal Baxter’s first moves into his forward planning, the Chiefs coach has not ruled out adding further names in the not too distant future to swell the Exeter ranks.
"It’s always important to try to keep a balance," said Baxter. "We will keep looking at players we feel can make a step up and will thrive in a higher level of rugby, we look very closely at the Championship and other leagues home and abroad.
"If you look at Mitch Lees or Tom Francis, who have come up from the Championship, how good will it be for them to be working with Geoff on a day by day basis next season?
"There’s a lot of positives from bringing in quality players and guys who have international and top-flight experience. We want experience of playing in the big games and it’s also helpful if you have guys who have experienced a lot of big games.
"When we went to Northampton and won, we had Thomas Waldrom there and he’s used to beating Northampton – he’s done it before. Sometimes when things get a bit tight, that bit of experience can just make all the difference in keeping everyone on the right path."