The Big Interview: Rob Baxter on Exeter Chiefs’ growth on and off the field
The incredible rise of Exeter Chiefs, from promotion to the top flight in 2010 to lifting the Gallagher Premiership rugby title in 2017, is well documented.
The Chiefs have been at each of the last three Twickenham finals, lifting the trophy at the end of the 2016-17 season, and twice being beaten by Saracens.
Only Jack Nowell, Olly Woodburn, Luke Cowan-Dickie and Don Armand started all three finals though pointing at serious depth in the Chiefs’ ranks.
Not only depth but continual progress as the club continues to find new and exciting talents which keeps the playing squad fresh and with limited big-money imports.
We caught up with Rob Baxter to find out more about the Exeter Chiefs model for player development and how they reach the far corners of Devon and Cornwall.
What’s the secret behind Exeter Chiefs’ recent successes on and off the field?
You have to give a great deal of credit to the players, I’m a huge believer in people will believe what they see.
I think what people across Devon and Cornwall see when they watch the Chiefs, live or on TV, is a committed group of guys, committed to each other and the club and what they want do.
— Gareth Steenson (@steeno10) September 5, 2018
We carry ourselves such that if I was a person in the local area they’d be the kind of people I’d want to support.
We have worked very hard of that over a number of years and we’re reaping the rewards because people want to be involved with us.
Are there any particular traits you look for in Exeter Chiefs players?
Personalities are important, but I think what’s important is that we’re comfortable that they’re different. We don’t expect an Exeter Chiefs player to be a robot.
We expect him to have his own character, but we want his good characteristics to win through. We have probably got a wider variety of haircuts, tattoos, cars in the car park, interests away from the club than almost any other club.
They can be their own man and we encourage that but we expect them, on certain fundamentals, to buy into a couple of qualities because they can be successful together and they can do it for each.
Get your diaries out, here’s the line-up for the second round of #GallagherPrem action 👇👇👇
Which games will provide some tasty drama? 🤔 pic.twitter.com/whgHcdIw5h
— Premiership Rugby (@premrugby) September 3, 2018
How important is the Exeter Chiefs’ academy?
We put a lot of faith and investment in our academy and they start to filter through into Exeter Braves’ games and the Premiership Rugby Cup as their first experiences.
Our young players are also aware that if they perform in a competition like the Premiership Rugby Cup they have a great opportunity to progress through into Gallagher Premiership Rugby and European Cup games and it’s having that progressive ladder through these competitions which is very important.
Because we’re prepared to show faith in people’s performance levels it makes it a very competitive wide-ranging group for us across all the competitions we play in.
How important is having the right role models?
Players are aware of what they see, and they see their peers, from the same colleges and clubs, play at Exeter, in European Cup games and also play for England.
A young lad playing for Penzance can look at Jack Nowell and Luke Cowan-Dickie and see the same pathway is there for me, through Truro College and coming to the club and then Premiership Rugby Cup.
This afternoon some of the players will be visiting businesses to deliver fixture lists and more – see you soon Exeter!
— Exeter Chiefs (@ExeterChiefs) September 5, 2018
The pathway is there and it’s a well-trodden pathway and that excites guys because it’s not a unattainable dream it’s there, it’s real and they can see these players on a daily basis.
Obviously, the work our academy coaches do is very good, but we’ve been fortunate enough to develop a real club culture across Devon and Cornwall.
Our academy coaches and leaders have done fantastically well in filtering down our key qualities of our front-line side through the levels in our academy.