Hodge joins the Chiefs
By Mark Stevens
Exeter Chiefs have bolstered their back three options with the signing of highly-rated back Josh Hodge from Gallagher Premiership rivals Newcastle Falcons.
The 20-year-old is Baxter's fifth addition to his squad, joining the likes of Jonny Gray, Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, Aaron Hinkley and Corey Baldwin, in making the switch to Sandy Park.
Equally adept on the wing or at full-back, Chiefs' Director of Rugby, Rob Baxter, has spoken of his delight at landing Hodge, who as well as being capped at both Under-18 and Under-20 level for England, also took up an apprentice role in Eddie Jones' England squad preparing for their Six Nations campaign earlier this year.
"Some people will know of Josh having played here with England Under-20s [against France], but they may not have seen him play as much for Newcastle" said Baxter. "He's just one of those guys that you can see bags of potential in him. He's a good goalkicker; genuine pace; a talented ball player and some who looks like he has lots of physical development still in him.
"For us, we see him as being that ideal fit in the back three for where we are at this moment in time. He can play full-back or wing, which is great, and when you look around the Premiership at young players, we have spent a lot of time looking at young players and developing young players, and we feel we are really good at it. We see Josh as someone who could come here and thrive for ten years."
Lancaster-born Hodge was initially football-focused as a youngster, including being part of the Preston North End Academy from the age of seven. However, when he switched to Sedbergh School on a sports scholarship (in running and rugby) - it was the oval ball that took centre stage.
"Initially, I played a bit of Sunday league, but when I got picked up by the Falcons in lower sixth I stopped football and concentrated on my rugby," said Hodge, who in January made his first-team debut for the North East club, scoring a length of the field try against Yorkshire Carnegie in their Championship encounter at Headingley.
Although first team opportunities have been limited at Kingston Park, Hodge has certainly impressed when on duty at England age group level, including the 2019 Junior World Cup in Argentina where he slotted 24 kicks out of 24 attempts.
"I know a few of the boys at Exeter already from being in the England U20s set-up - and Will Witty was at the Falcons as well," said Hodge. "That will certainly make settling in a bit easier.
"As for the move itself, I'm over the moon and very excited to be joining the Chiefs. They are a club who are at the top of their game, they've got some great players and a really good coaching team. I like the way they play, it's a very expansive game, and you've seen over the years how they help develop and bring through young players.
"It's a big move for me, but it's definitely one that I am looking forward to. I also have to thank everyone at Newcastle for everything they have done for me over the years. I was a fairly late developer in terms of rugby, but they gave me my opportunity and I will always be grateful for the chance they gave me."