Frontline stars set to return against Lyon
By Mark Stevens
Rob Baxter has spoken of an ‘improving picture’ for his Exeter Chiefs squad ahead of their return to action in the Heineken Champions Cup on Saturday (5:30pm).
With in-form Lyon set to descend on Sandy Park for the crunch Round of 16 tie, the Chiefs’ Director of Rugby has been lifted with the news that many of his frontline stars will be available for the clash against the Frenchmen.
In his weekly media briefing, Baxter confirmed that he would be able to select from a powerful array of talent as the Chiefs look to continue the defence of their European crown they won last October against Racing 92 in Bristol.
“It is an improving picture,” said Baxter. “Henry Slade [calf/Achilles] looks pretty good, he is back in training, Ian Whitten [ankle] looks pretty good he is back in training and Ollie Devoto has got over the little issue [hip] he had last week which made him unavailable for Gloucester, so he is back as well.
"Tom Hendrickson [ankle] is a little way behind those guys, but we have certainly got more options than we had last week.”
Baxter also reported that Jonny Gray, who was forced to miss Scotland’s final Six Nations game away to France with a shoulder injury, was also back in full training this week.
“We are pretty full on, but we are not completely there,” added Baxter. “Alex Cuthbert [hamstring] and Jack Nowell [hamstring] are still a little way off, but of what people would call our frontline players, we are looking pretty good.”
Cornishman Nowell is yet to play this season having undergone surgery on ligaments in his toe back in October before unfortunately tearing his hamstring in training on the verge of his latest return.
However, Baxter says the England and British Lions winger is close to a first run out, and just being held back by the club’s cautious medical staff.
He said: “Typically Nowellsy says he is fit now and ready to play but we are obviously being cautious with him and making sure his loading is where it needs to be.
“He is weeks away, it is probably going to be when he hits his maximum loading which we have seen from him over the last two or three seasons, that we will make the final decision to play him.
“In his mind he is good to go. What the hamstring injury has allowed is a longer time for his toe to heal after the operation and we actually went back in and did a little bit more work, I think he had a steroid injection in it and went off his feet for a couple of weeks to allow it to heal.
“He is slowly working back from his hamstring now and I think you will see a very fit and vibrant Jack Nowell in a couple of weeks.
“It is likely to be when we return to the Premiership when he returns, if we do have a game next week,” in the quarter final of the Champions Cup against either Toulon or Leinster, “it might be too early.”