Rob Baxter’s plan of tying down the long-term futures of his frontline stars at Exeter Chiefs shows no sign of abating after another key figure today put pen to paper on a new deal.
The Chiefs head coach confirmed the Aviva Premiership club have taken up a clause to extend the contract of Welsh international Tomas Francis.
The York-born forward, who has won 14 caps for his country, including five in last autumn’s World Cup, has agreed on a deal that will see him stay at Sandy Park until the end of the 2018-19 season.
Francis is the latest big name player to commit his future to the Chiefs, who in recent weeks have also tied down new deals for the likes of Luke Cowan-Dickie, Jack Nowell, Henry Slade, as well as others such as Don Armand, Mitch Lees, Alec Hepburn, Thomas Waldrom and Harry Williams.
A delighted Baxter said: “In Tom’s last contract, the club had a clause in there that we could extend the contract if certain terms were met, and we have decided to go with that, and have extended his deal by a further two years beyond the end of the 2016-17 season.
“I know he is delighted with that, and we are obviously very pleased that a player who came to us from the Championship and has been with us for a couple of seasons now sees his long-term future with us, and hopefully we can help keep developing him as not only a Premiership and European quality player, but also as an international. Once you get hold of a good player, and you start working with them, you are investing in them all the time, and the way you get that investment back is if those players stay around.
“It was an easy call for us, and hopefully Tom as well, and a player who has come here and seen some immediate success is now prepared to stay here for the next few years of his career.”
Signed in the summer of 2014 from Championship outfit London Scottish, Francis has enjoyed a meteoric rise, establishing himself not only as a proven performer in the Premiership and Europe with the Chiefs, but also on the international stage with Wales, featuring in the World Cup, Six Nations and, more recently, their summer tour to world champions New Zealand.
As always, Baxter carried out the detailed analysis on the 24-year-old before his arrival in Devon, and he says the form shown by Francis – who started his senior career with Doncaster Knights – has come as no real surprise to him.
“I always like to think it is a two-way street,” said Baxter. “We, as a club, work hard on our recruitment policy and like to see certain facets of someone’s game that we know are good foundation elements for us, and we saw those in Tom. But, at the same time, players have to come here and be prepared to work very hard, and that’s what we see with a lot of these guys.
“We like to think we provide an environment, with the coaches and facilities we have here, for them to be able to thrive if they are prepared to work hard, and I think that is what we see most of the time – a guy who comes here and is prepared to work hard will get the rewards – and that’s what we have seen with Tom.”
The tight-head prop will be a hugely competitive area of the squad for Exeter this coming season, with Francis, new Australian international Greg Holmes, Scotland international Moray Low, highly-rated Harry Williams and Carl Rimmer all fighting it out for a starting spot and providing Baxter with almost an embarrassment of riches.
Baxter continued: “In our time in the Premiership, if we have learnt anything it is that your front five needs to be strong, week in and week out, and I think we have targeted that over a number of years, to try and enhance the strength of our front five as much as we can. I think we are doing that, and it is probably the strongest front five pool we have put together in our time in the Premiership.
“I think the competition will be great, but you also need to remember that Moray has played internationally at loose-head, as has Greg, and Carl can play both sides as well, so we have got plenty of options there.
“With Harry getting the opportunities he did last year and playing so well, I have obviously created another player in there who is fighting for that starting shirt that, perhaps 12 months ago we weren’t sure whether he would be there at this stage so early in his time with us, so it is fantastic for us, and I am expecting to see some great scrum battles, both on the pitch when we play opposition but also in training.
“We are going to have some great strength there, and we got to make sure we get the best out of them all, whichever combination we use on whatever given day.”
Speaking about Francis, Baxter added: “Tom has worked hard on all aspects of his game since joining us, and when you look at his age, if he can stay mentally and physically right, his best years are ahead of him, and that’s the important thing.”