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‘It suits his strengths’-Exeter Chiefs boss Rob Baxter heaps praise on young forward Rusi Tuima following switch to the second-row

Exeter Chiefs Director of Rugby Rob Baxter has said playing in the second-row ‘suits’ Rusi Tuima following his move up the scrum from the back row this season.

Suva-born Tuima made his first team debut as a number eight, however since his shift into the second-row he has become a mainstay in the Chiefs match-day squad working alongside skipper Dafydd Jenkins and Lewis Pearson in a rotating lock unit.

Speaking to the media ahead of his side’s clash with Glasgow Warriors, Baxter was full of praise the young forward: “I think it suits his strengths.”

He added: “I think as a back row forward he probably doesn’t quite have enough high speed actions or high movement actions for him to really shine; but obviously in the second row his impacts around the tackle area, around the carry area and the clear out all become highlights rather than what you expect from a back-rower.”

Tuima has been a main-stay in the Chiefs team this season, and has made some notable impacts so far. He scored the winning try in their tight victory over Leicester Tigers, and produced a brilliant piece of skill to create an opportunity which he ended up finishing himself in last weekend’s narrow defeat to Northampton Saints.

Whilst he is now a key cog in the weaponised Chiefs scrum, Baxter pointed out that the 23-year-old is still improving in his new role.

“You’ve seen him add solidity to our scrum in particular, but he’s improving all the time as a line out forward and a mauler, but then that allows some of those fast carries and big clear outs that he’s capable of , they all start to become real positives because they’re adding to a pack of forwards where they’ve got a full back row running around and doing their jobs.” 

Tuima rose through the ranks in the academy, and is one of a number of players in the senior side to benefit from the club’s partnership with Exeter College.

During the media briefing, Baxter waxed lyrical about the club’s connections to the local sixth-form college-which often gets overshadowed by the famous academy partnership with Exeter University.

“The truth is they are kind of everything below 18 for us,” said Baxter.

He added: “Our biggest challenge is we haven’t got a whole layer of schools pre-18 that have very strong rugby programmes. For us, that quality rugby program starts when they leave school and they go to one of the college centres, either at Truro or Exeter. They really become everything for us and that’s where you’ll see 90% of our talent come through within our region.”

Tuima is just one of several players currently in the squad who have come through one of these colleges. 14 of the current men’s squad hail from Exeter College, and Truro College has helped plenty of promising Cornish players come through into the first team at Exeter-including club legends Jack Nowell and Luke Cowan-Dickie.