Baxter adds two new faces
Pictures: Exeter Rugby Club/Getty Images
By Mark Stevens
Head coach Rob Baxter today bolstered his options for next season and beyond by bringing in two new faces to the playing ranks at Exeter Chiefs.
Experienced Australian international scrum-half Nic White will head to Devon from French Top 14 side Montpellier, while back-row forward James Freeman will also be checking into Sandy Park having joined from Championship outfit Jersey Reds.
Both men have agreed two-year deals with the Chiefs and takes Baxter’s new faces list to that of five having already brought in England international Matt Kvesic from Gloucester, plus Toby Salmon from Rotherham and Tom O’Flaherty from the Ospreys.
In recent weeks Baxter has also tied down the long-term futures of a number of his current squad, thus allowing the Chiefs coach to now put the finishing touches to his squad for the 2017/18 season.
Commenting on the new arrivals, Baxter said: “We look at recruitment and retention all ways round and approach it in a lot of different ways. Obviously, part of what we do is about developing our own, homegrown young talent, but we’re also an ambitious club and we’re always looking to add quality players to the squad when we can.
“I just think when a player of Nic’s quality becomes available - and he shows an interest in coming to the club - you have to act quickly. If you look at how he has played, not just at Super Rugby and International level, but also more recently over in France with Montpellier, to me he’s exactly the kind of signing you want to bring to the club.
“I’ve no doubt he will add great competition to the scrum-halves we have already at the club, but he will also be great for the young players to learn from as well. He add a real sense of direction and game understanding to us, which I know is going to be important moving forward.”
However, the 26-year-old’s task of breaking into the Chiefs first team picture is not a formality and Baxter has already warned the Wallabies star that he faces a real fight when he turns up in the summer for pre-season.
Baxter added: “I’ve already had a chat with Nic and I said to him that I hope he’s ready for a tough pre-season because he’s not only got Will Chudley to compete with, but also two high quality whipper-snappers in Stu Townsend and Jack Maunder as well. He knows he needs to be ready to put in a big shift because we have real competition for places in that area, but I’m also expecting them all to work well as a group.”
With Dave Lewis departing for Harlequins next season and Haydn Thomas set to join the club’s Academy coaching set-up on a more permanent basis, White’s arrival will be a key boost for the Chiefs.
“I think he’s a really good signing for us,” continued Baxter. “We want to be a club who are playing in really big games week in, week out, and Nic has great experience of doing that. He’s also a player who is keen to develop and learn himself. He’s still at the right age, we believe, to accelerate and learn as a player and those kinds of things are very exciting for us.
“I think, overall, he ticks a lot of boxes for us in how we want to add quality to the squad going forward.”
Joining White in Exeter colours next season will be Freeman, who having started out in Worcester’s Academy arrives in the Westcountry having enjoyed playing stints with Loughborough University and, more recently, Jersey.
Welcoming the 26-year-old on board, Baxter said: “A bit like Nic, James ticks a lot of boxes for us. We keep a very close eye on the Championship, I’ve watched a lot of James’ games in detail, and again even before we met him, we saw that he had a lot of the qualities and the potential we think to do well in the Premiership.
“Obviously talking to James we’ve told him what we expect of him, but as I said to him when he came over, we have seen more than enough that in a slightly different environment - and with a bit of fine tuning this end - we can really challenge him and that he can go on and thrive with us.
“He’s currently a leader at Jersey, I personally think he’s one of the stand-out contributors in the back-row in the Championship, and he potentially fills a slot in a Premiership side.”
Baxter continued: “In a very important way, sometimes what you need to do when recruiting is you need to find the reason why you’ll pick this player. I think when we’ve looked at him we see various reasons why we would pick him and that gives us a great foundation for us to work with. It also gives him an opportunity to know that if he comes in works hard, there will be opportunities for him.
“As I said, these are two really good signings for us and I’m really looking forward to working with both Nic and James. In Nic you have one guy who has already achieved a lot in a short space of time, while with James you have someone working hard to fulfil those ambitions.
“That said, the only challenge we will set them from the outset is that they both work as hard as each other. That will be the start and end point for both of them. It’s exciting, but it’s also the foundation that everyone here will get success from. If they both work hard, they will both enjoy their time here.”