Chiefs young guns keen to shine
By Mark Stevens
Sam Skinner says the example shown by club-mate Sam Simmonds is one to follow for all aspiring young players at Exeter Chiefs.
This time last year the all-action back-row forward was looking to make the most of a first-team opportunity in the opening rounds of the Anglo-Welsh Cup. Today, the 23-year-old will pull on an England jersey for the first time as he forms part of Eddie Jones’ match-day squad for their first test of the Autumn series.
Chiefs team-mate Skinner is naturally delighted for his fellow Devonian, but cites him and the likes of Jack Nowell, Henry Slade and Luke Cowan-Dickie as shining lights for other young players at the club to follow.
“You only have to look at Sam Simmonds last season, he used the Anglo-Welsh at the perfect platform to propel himself into playing in the Premiership,” said Skinner. “Obviously, it’s down to every individual, but he and others have shown that if you perform in this competition, you can use it as a springboard to bigger things.”
Tomorrow, Skinner will line-up in a powerful Exeter side that will head to West Wales to tackle the Scarlets in their second fixture in this season’s competition. The Chiefs opened their account with a 43-28 victory over Northampton Saints a week ago and they will be hoping for more of the same in the Principality.
In a decent first outing for Ricky Pellow’s side, the Chiefs ran in seven tries to sink their Premiership counterparts, including first club scores for the likes of Toby Salmon (2), Alec Hepburn, Tom O’Flaherty and James Freeman.
Certainly in attack the Chiefs looked red-hot, but defensively last season’s beaten finalists were highly critical of themselves, particularly allowing the Saints to claim a try bonus point with two late scores.
“Overall, it was a pretty good performance from us, but we were disappointed with aspects of our defence,” conceded Skinner, who will again pack down in the second-row this weekend. “Northampton, as we thought, we strong and they tested us in a few areas. The game itself was a good atmosphere, similar to a Premiership game in many aspects, but we know we have to keep improving because the Scarlets will be very strong this weekend.”
With competition for places intense across the board at the Chiefs currently, Exeter-born Skinner says he and those on duty at the Parc Y Scarlets must make the most of the opportunity afforded to them, especially with a plethora of big games looming large on the horizon.
“I’m really enjoying my rugby and I’m trying to get as much game time as possible,” said the former Exeter University graduate. “Like everyone, I want to make the most of any opportunities I get. Historically, we’ve done very well in this competition and having got to the final last year, I know we lost in the end, there is no reason why we cannot do it again and get one step further this time.
“Right now, competition for places across the squad is intense. Each week it seems we can pick a very strong outfit, but I think that just makes competition amongst us all very high and means that training is top quality and bringing the best out of everyone.”
And lining up alongside Skinner tomorrow will be another clutch of the club’s highly-rated young players, all of whom have trod the path from the academy to that of the senior ranks.
“I think lots of clubs and lots of players know our academy here is very strong,” continued Skinner. “It’s good that so many of us have come though, but to do that you have to get your head down and be prepared to work hard. It obviously started with the likes of Nowellsy and Sladey, but more recently the likes of Stu Townsend, Sam Simmonds and Jack Maunder have come through as well.
“It’s a nice feeling for all of us that having played together when we were younger in various teams, now we’re all getting the chance to do that with the Chiefs at first team level.”