Exeter prop Brett Sturgess has admitted it will be with a heavy heart that his bids farewell to the Chiefs at the end of the season.
The popular loosehead is set to bring the curtain down on his nine-year stay with the Devon club after today confirming this will be his last year as a professional player.
Signed during the summer of 2007 by then Exeter Director of Rugby, Pete Drewett, the 34-year-old forward has played an integral part in the rise of the Chiefs in recent years.
Initially starting out in the old National League One, Sturgess was not only part of the Chiefs’ promotion-winning side of 2010, but has since helped Rob Baxter’s side to establish themselves as a growing force within the Aviva Premiership and Europe.
With 166 appearances and 10 tries to his name in Exeter colours, the Kettering-born star is set to pursue other interests outside of the game, as well as taking up a player-coaching role at an un-named lower league club.
Reflecting on his time with the Chiefs, Sturgess was quick to highlight the ‘incredible’ journey he had been on since signing from Irish side Connacht, including setting up home with wife Heather and their two children Noah and Bonnie.
“When you look back on it, part of it feels like a lifetime,” said Sturgess. “When you look back at your career, it goes by in the blink of an eye. The last nine years here have been pretty amazing.
“Personally I’ve had some ups and down, and highs and lows with injuries too. And the latest one with the knee really meant I have not had the game time more recently. It’s been fantastic though. To be there from the beginning until now – I couldn’t have asked for any better.
“I came in when it was the old National One and it’s grown ever since. I came in and knew straight away that something special was going on and even if I only played a slight part in the club’s rise, then I’ll hold that very close to me when the time comes to finish professionally.
“The guys I have played with, both past and present, have been great. One thing with this club is that you know the guys the club have brought in are people you will get on with from day one and that is a credit to the coaches. They bring in players who want to play for the club and you just want to be part of it. Even the staff get what is going on here, from the bottom to the top.”
Although recent times have seen Sturgess’ game time somewhat limited, particularly after he sustained a serious knee injury against Harlequins in Big Game 6, he remains a hugely popular figure both amongst his peers, but also with the ever-growing Chiefs supporter base.
He continued: “Obviously the 16th man has also been part of the ethos at the club – the fans and that special bond that we have with the tribe is just fantastic.”
During the early years of Exeter’s Premiership existence, though, Sturgess was a virtual ever-present and the sight of him galloping down the left touchline at Watford’s Vicarage Road in the club’s maiden top flight away win, will live long in the memory of all that were there to witness a memorable day
“Our first away win I will hold dearly in my memory, what with the try and beating Saracens away,” laughs Sturgess. “Also that rainy day in Bristol, when we won promotion, that will be up there too.
“We have always talked about a reunion after 10 years, but that is only four years away! Some guys are probably playing still and it would be great when the time comes down the line to meet up and look at each other and know what a special night it was for the players and the club.
“Looking at the team back then, we added a couple of guys but in that first game against Gloucester, it was still the old team pretty much. Rob had put a group of guys together who had something to prove and had a chip on their shoulder.
“I’d tasted a little bit of Premiership before with the Saints, but we had been given the opportunity. Outside of the club we had been written off from day one, so to whack in a win against Gloucester on that first game was another memorable day.”
He continued: “Those early days in the Premiership were about making those memories and a little bit of history and, as the years have gone on, we feel like a massive part of the Premiership and we can really
achieve something this year.”
Although Sturgess is still tying up the loose ends of his next move within the game, the Chiefs will forever hold a special place in his heart.
“I’ll miss the guys here who make this club so special and being here with them day to day working towards that one goal that everyone is striving for,” added Sturgess.
“I have always been known as someone who likes to work hard and anyone who comes to this club knows that the work ethic is here. I’ve always enjoyed that side of things and I’ll miss that.
“I’m old hat now and rubbing shoulders with these young guys, but when I am sat there when I have finished playing rugby, I can say I played with those guys. I have been lucky enough to be here for nine years and 17 years as a professional.
“I’m sad to say when the curtain goes down on this season, it will be my last Premiership and professional year, but I can hold my head up high and say I had a great time.”