The Synergic Relationship: Exeter University and Exeter Chiefs
The heritage of EURFC stems back to the days of St. Luke’s College, where its first rugby match was played against Exeter Grammar School, establishing EURFC, in 1860. Now known as Exeter Chiefs, Exeter Rugby Football Club was then established in 1872, with its inaugural match played against St. Luke’s College. This sparked the important synergic relationship between the two clubs, still thriving in today’s professional era.
By the 1950’s, university rugby began to prove itself as a major influence on English rugby. St Luke’s College was a dominating force throughout, with regular fixtures against Bristol, Gloucester, Rosslyn Park and Wasps. By 1969, the long-lasting and spirited rivalry between St. Luke’s and Loughborough College was established, which has seen some of the best university fixtures the country has seen.
In 1978, St. Luke’s College and the University of Exeter amalgamated into one academic powerhouse. Since, the University has gained Russell Group status and sits among the best 150 universities in the world. The University’s scholarship schemes therefore not only attract academics of the highest calibre, but also athletes with the potential to compete at the highest level.
In the past decade, EURFC has remained as the dominating force in university rugby. The Club’s 1st XV have achieved victories at Twickenham, and have won their respective BUCS league multiple times. An achievement that has not been unnoticed from the professional’s on the other side of the M5. In their recent rise to become the primo team in the Premiership, Exeter Chiefs have stuck to their roots in producing top-class players from their own academies, with EURFC sat high in their pecking order. It is no secret that the University and Premiership side play a similar brand of rugby, materialised from close-knit relationships between the coaching teams.
Tony Rowe OBE, Chairman and Chief Executive of Exeter Rugby Club has been a driving force in the development of the working relationship between the Chiefs and the University of Exeter.
Rob Baxter, Director of Rugby at Exeter Chiefs and former Head Coach of the University’s rugby club, recognises the University’s contribution in the professional programme.
Baxter says “we truly believe that the University of Exeter plays a hugely valuable part in our aim to be one of the best rugby teams in Europe. Not only does it allow us to extend the range of our academy to cater for the needs of our higher educational achievers, who can have a first-class education alongside a professionally-run rugby programme, but it also adds an arm to our recruitment and development process.”
Baxter is a regular on the side line at Topsham Sports Ground on a Wednesday, where he and a number of the coaching staff at Chiefs watch the University side play in their BUCS Super Rugby fixtures.
He also says: “the links we have are real, which is shown by the number of players both from within our region and from without who have gone on to earn full-time professional contracts. Several staff members and current players aid with coaching and mentoring at the University, making our rugby, conditioning and playing philosophies are closely aligned. The BUCS competition works extremely well as the bridge between youth and age group rugby through to the senior leagues and allows time for some players to gain the degree of physical maturity that they will need. We have seen many players develop through this competition into Premiership and International quality players, and we can only see this situation continuing in the future.”
In order to maintain continuity and a clear pathway between the two clubs, Chiefs provide player coaches to each of the University’s 10 BUCS sides, with former player Haydn Thomas heading both the University’s 1st XV and Exeter Braves. Haydn is one of the first to follow this new road to professional rugby; he achieved a 1st Class Degree in Chemistry from the University of Exeter, where he played in both the 1st XV and Saturday XV. He then went on to gain 211 professional caps for Exeter Chiefs, and was part of their rise from National 1, all the way through to the Premiership.
Following retirement, Haydn now focuses on coaching players to follow a similar path to his, spending his time coaching the University’s BUCS Super Rugby XV, who recently became back-to-back BUCS Super Rugby champions.
This profound relationship has come fruitful in recent years, with Exeter University’s programme churning out some of Chiefs best.
Henry Slade (England, Exeter Chiefs, Exeter University), Sam Skinner (Scotland, Exeter Chiefs, Exeter University), Jack Maunder (England, Exeter Chiefs, Exeter University), Sam Maunder (England U20’s, Exeter Chiefs, Exeter University), Richard Capstick (England U20’s, Exeter Chiefs, Exeter University) and Tom Lawday (Exeter Chiefs, Exeter University) are only some of EURFC’s crop to play for the Chiefs’ Premiership side.
The link between Exeter University Rugby Football Club and Exeter Chiefs is an important tool for players with their sights on professional rugby, whilst attaining a degree from one of the most esteemed and reputable Universities in the country.
Keith Fleming (Director of Rugby, Exeter University) says: “we have had a long and successful partnership with Exeter Chiefs. We work together with our athletes over the three years of their studies, working closely with S&C and rugby coaches to give them the best possible chance to become a professional rugby player. Recognising the prestige of the academic side of the university, Fleming emphasised “their academic studies are paramount to us, and those who apply themselves can achieve great things here.”
EURFC Women’s have also been dominating their leagues in the past three years. The 1st XV have achieved back-to-back BUCS Championships at Twickenham and have not been defeated in over two seasons. This level of performance will be hugely beneficial for Exeter Chiefs in years to come, as they look to initiate their Women’s programme in the near future. The University and Chiefs will again look to establish an effective relationship between the two women’s clubs, enhancing the rugby programme either further..