Exeter Chiefs head coach Rob Baxter says his decision to agree contract extensions with two more of his first team squad is just reward for the efforts shown by the players themselves.
Forwards Thomas Waldrom and Harry Williams are the latest names to commit their futures to the Aviva Premiership club, coming hot on the heels of new deals for Don Armand, Luke Cowan-Dickie, Alec Hepburn, Mitch Lees, Jack Nowell and Henry Slade.
News that both men have penned terms, which will keep them at Sandy Park until the end of the 2017/18 season, is yet another welcome pre-season boost for Baxter, who has made no secret in the past of his desire to keep as much continuity within the playing ranks as possible.
Commenting on the deals, Baxter said: “What we have done is moved quickly to extend the deals for both lads. They were both under contract for this season, but we’ve extended them by a year and got things done nice and early.
“It’s a reward for both of them for doing so well, but it also keeps that solidity within the squad that we like to have.
“Tom shown in the last couple of years that he’s playing right at top of the game, but we are still confident that physically and mentally he is still up to contributing a lot to the team and to the club.
“It’s the same for Harry, he came in for his first year last season and he did extremely well. There are not many guys who have come out of the Championship and found themselves playing in European quarter-finals, Premiership semi-finals, a Premiership final and done as well as he has.
“As I said, this is reward for both of them and we expect them to offer a lot to us again over this season and next.”
Since arriving from Premiership rivals Leicester Tigers two seasons ago, England international Waldrom has established himself as an integral part of the Exeter pack, finishing both seasons as not only the club’s leading try-scorer, but also the Premiership’s top try-scorer.
Waldrom’s record of 36 tries in 54 appearances for the Chiefs is an astonishing feat and has seen him gain ‘star status’ amongst the club’s supporter base in the short period of time he has bene in Devon,
Baxter, though, will not let the free-scoring No.8 rest on his laurels and has says he will have to fight for a spot in the Exeter back-row this term.
He continued: “Coming to Exeter was a good move for Tom, a good move for us and probably a good move for Leicester. He’s played Premiership, Super Rugby and international rugby in the past but – and it’s happened with players here – he perhaps dropped down the rankings at Leicester and it was time for him to move on. He came here and it kind of reinvigorated him and he’s been enjoying his rugby with us.
“The way we play, the way Tom plays, it’s a good fit, but he knows he’s going to gave to work incredibly hard to get into a back-row this year which could contain two guys [Don Armand and Dave Ewers] who have just been on an England Saxons tour or Julian Salvi, Ben White or Tom Johnson. We’ve got Dave Dennis turning up soon from Australia, while Sam Simmonds has looked fantastic in pre-season, so Tom’s going to have to work very hard to cement a place in the team.”
Similarly, Baxter has challenged Williams – who joined from Jersey at the start of last season – to raise his game with a plethora of international talent all battling it out for the tight-head spot.
“As with a number of our lads, we looked hard at the Championship and we felt Harry had a lot of the right qualities that we craved,” continued Baxter. “He’s just done his first season with us and he showed a lot of those qualities when he featured. Now, though, he has to be prepared to work very hard again and by working hard, we are seeing him improve all the time.”
Last season, Williams featured in 15 Premiership and European games for the Chiefs, scoring his one and only try in the narrow 25-24 European Champions Cup defeat to Wasps at the Ricoh Arena.
Baxter has again hinted that he is close to tying up a few more of his existing squad to new deals, details of which should emerge in the coming days and weeks.