Exeter Chiefs’ prospects ahead of this year’s Premiership seasons are a far cry from that of just a couple of seasons ago. Gone appear to be the days of Premiership title challenges and European glory, in fact, any sort of silverware appears to be well and truly off the table following the mass exodus of the Devon-based club.
The former European champions spent the past ten years building a side and a culture that achieved sporting glory in the most authentic way possible. Under Head Coach, Rob Baxter, they built a squad based around a core of homegrown players that had also been able to build their own careers off the back of the Chiefs’ growing reputation.
Many players, including the likes of Henry Slade, Luke Cowan Dickie, Jack Nowell, and many others, bolstered their way into international sides thanks to the training and trust that enabled them to become true superstars in Exeter.
Exeter’s fortunes have faded considerably since their 2020 title-winning exploits, with a stark change around in personnel, as well as player form being the main culprits. The club managed to hang around towards the top of the Premiership table for the first couple of seasons following their double-winning season, but it was the return of English giants Saracens that truly signaled the end of Exeter’s stranglehold on English rugby.
Following the conclusion of the 2022/23 season in which Exeter failed to make the top four, many of the players that were holding the club together were either released or moved onto ventures new.
The glue that represented the club was becoming unstuck as the French tidal wave of increased salaries hit the southwestern shore.
With few memorable players left remaining in the Exeter camp, it’s now time for Rob Baxter to rebuild and show the rugby world that he, and the Chiefs, can do it again. Starting as Premiership minnows, they’ve got a journey ahead of them to once again reach the zenith of European rugby.
Besides stabilising their existing talent, the next stage is to bring in players that will bond and bolster the existing squad. Rob Baxter appears to have found his man to create a secure brick wall in the centre of the scrum – as he looks to the future by signing 22-year-old Eoin O’Connor.
O’Connor has recently been released by Irish giants Munster following just one season in the senior squad. Despite making just four appearances in his time at the club, his sizeable 6 foot 7 inches, 17 stone frame will provide some serious size in the Exeter pack.
O’Connor told the Chiefs website: “It’s a great opportunity for me, especially with the squad we have here. It’s a young squad, but having chatted with Rob [Baxter] he outlined the vision of the club moving forward and I was very excited by that.
“Obviously, we’ve faced English teams in Europe, including the Chiefs, so you get to know a little about them, but I’m looking forward to going to the different grounds, playing different teams and learning more about their rivalries.”
Rob Baxter’s ability to craft young players into genuine superstars is well-documented, so the signing of this athletic specimen is not to be underestimated. This could very well be a pinnacle moment for an Exeter side on the rebuild, as well as for the young second row that has joined the ranks.