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Fan column: Exeter Chiefs had a great year, but need to build on the success

In the first instalment of the new Rugby Nause News fan column series, Editor in Chief Louis Chapman-Coombe, a former season ticket holder of eight years and former Exeter Chiefs Academy player, takes a deep dive into the Chiefs 2023/2024 season. 

Fan column: Exeter Chiefs had a great year, but need to build on the success

The 2023/2024 season was arguably one of the finer seasons at Sandy Park in recent memory, all things considered. Coming into the campaign, Chiefs lost a large core of the golden generation which delivered so much success to the club.

The likes of Jack Nowell, Dave Ewers, Luke Cowan-Dickie, Stuart Hogg, Sam and Joe Simmonds and even to an extent Jack Maunder, all spearheaded the charges to the 2017 Premiership title and the historic double in 2020, but they also left gaping holes in the starting XV.

Rather than dipping into the market, like most would have assumed, Rob Baxter put his trust in the young guns in the squad; and for every Jack Nowell, there was an Immanuel Feyi-Waboso waiting to take the step into the senior squad.

The likes of the aforementioned Feyi-Waboso, Ross Vintcent, Rusi Tuima, Lewis Pearson, Greg Fisilau, Tom Cairns-the list goes on-have really crept out of the woodwork and into the spotlight, rewarding Baxter’s trust in them with some truly brilliant performances.

Whilst they still finished seventh in the table (technically in the bottom half of the table), the Chiefs have made significant steps forward after some tough lessons in the 2022/2023 campaign.

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Exeter Chiefs unlock new attack

Gallagher Premiership Breakthrough Player of the Year Immanuel Feyi-Waboso-Credit: IMAGO

They have returned to the style of play which made them a dominant force, powered by the strong pick-and-go game in the 22 (North Coast as we called it in the academy). The set-piece has also come on leaps and bounds this season.

The signing of Ehren Painter has really boosted the power of the scrum, and allowed Scott Sio to go on the attack and turn it into a weapon. Around that too, Marcus Street and Danny Southworth have come into their own as scrummagers too, giving some much needed depth to the front-row unit.

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Having a dominant pack is brilliant, but outside of that Exeter now genuinely have a nine who can provide quick-ball, which in turn has made the team a deadlier unit. The Chiefs notched an impressive 75 tries in the Premiership this season, 14 more than their tally of 61 in 2022/2023.

The backline will take a lot of the credit for this attacking improvement, as they should. Harvey Skinner grew as the year went on, Premiership Player of the Year Henry Slade was outstanding throughout the campaign. Elsewhere, Tommy Wyatt, Josh Hodge, Ben Hammersley and Dan John have all stepped up in attack and provided some genuine threat and pace.

Lessons learned

Credit: IMAGO

As a whole, Exeter secured some huge wins too. The Champions Cup run will give the squad massive confidence, with four gritty wins over Toulon, Munster, Glasgow and Bath; and were always pushing for the top four until the end of the Premiership season too.

The focus will, and so it should be, on the growth of this new-look Exeter Chiefs; but fans will now be expecting them to kick on from here.

This campaign showed they can compete at the highest level, but if they miss out on the top four again in 2025, all of this will have been for nothing. Exeter need something to show for their progress.

Baxter has spoken all year about building memories, or learning lessons like the one against Toulouse, and that is absolutely what this season has been for, to prepare the squad for title pushes.

The tight loss against Northampton Saints, and to an extent the victory over Leicester Tigers at Sandy Park too, should let them see what happens when you let teams back into the game. The heavy losses to Sale Sharks and Leicester should have proved they need to be on it right from the off if they want to be a top team in this competition too.

Even the Premiership Cup semi-final defeat to Gloucester showed they cannot afford to come into a game late; they need to be on it from the very start.

These feel fairly harsh to point out, but yet it proves the point I’m trying to make-this has to be used as a learning experience to kick on from.

Exeter have put themselves back amongst the play-off contenders now, but they need to build on the progress of the 2023/2024 campaign.