Hill bids a fond farewell
By Mark Stevens
Sam Hill has today bid a fond farewell to Exeter Chiefs and taken to the road for a new start at Gallagher Premiership rivals Sale Sharks.
Hill, a product of the Devon club’s highly-successful Academy set-up, confirmed back in March that he would be bringing the curtain down on his lengthy spell with the Chiefs.
Like others in Rob Baxter’s first-team squad, the 27-year-old was hoping to sign off his final season as a Chief on a high note, having helped the club to the top of the Premiership and into the last eight of the Heineken Champions Cup.
Sadly, the COVID-19 pandemic brought an abrupt halt to this season’s proceedings and Hill will now depart having not got his chance to say his goodbyes to the Chiefs faithful.
“Obviously, it’s disappointing that I’ve not been able to finish the season like I had hoped for,” said Hill. “That said, I’ve had an unbelievable time here at the Chiefs, experiencing so many good memories, both on and off the field.”
As one of the so-called ‘golden generation’ brought through the Chiefs academy alongside the likes of Luke Cowan-Dickie, Dave Ewers, Jack Nowell and Henry Slade, Hill has certainly made a name for himself since making his first-team debut back in 2012 in an LV= Cup fixture against Wasps.
With over 150 first team appearances and 11 tries to his name, his worth to the Exeter backline is there for all to see. However, the man himself says the time was right for him to try ‘something different’ – not just in terms of his rugby, but also away from his Devon roots.
“I’ve grown up in and around Exeter and I just felt now was the right time for me to try something different,” said Hill. “As a youngster, I remember going to the old County Ground and watching the Chiefs play. I know it sounds clichéd, but I knew then that I wanted to play for the club when I was older.”
Progressing through Ivybridge Community College and into the club’s senior academy ranks, Hill’s robust, all-action nature quickly brought him into the spotlight of the club’s coaching staff.
“I got a couple of call-ups for the A League side initially and then when Nowellsy and Sladey started to breakthrough, I wasn’t too far behind them in getting my chance,” explained Hill. “Having those two and Dickie and Dave around me, it was brilliant that we were all getting our chances.
“As a group, I remember us all talking once and saying how good would it be if we could all play in a Premiership game together. Well, it happened a lot of times in the end, so it’s been amazing to have been able to play so many games with my mates and all the others boys at the club.”
Now, though, Hill will have to be prepared to come face-to-face with those same mates, albeit from an opposition camp. Currently, the Sharks sit second in the Premiership standings, five points behind the table-topping Chiefs.
“It’s definitely going to be weird coming up against the boys,” laughed Hill. “I am sure there are going to be a few comments coming at me, especially if the stadiums are empty as well! As I said, it’s going to tough to leave Exeter, but my family are still down here and so are a lot of my friends, so I’ll still be coming back as and when.
“Going to Sale, though, it’s going to be good for me. All I’ve known is life at the Chiefs and Exeter, so it will be interesting to be amongst a new group and seeing how they do things.”