"Your Next Jack Nowells and Henry Slades" - Stu Townsend Praises Young Exeter Chiefs Stars Ahead of Glasgow Clash - Ruck

“Your Next Jack Nowells and Henry Slades” – Stu Townsend Praises Young Exeter Chiefs Stars Ahead of Glasgow Clash

Exeter Chiefs have been the story of the season so far in the Premiership, as despite losing a significant crop of their established talents, this new-look side have been surpassing expectations. Currently sat at fourth in the league ahead of the second Champions Cup break, the Chiefs have stolen the show through dramatic victories, with their core playing group of young talents in the spotlight.

The likes of Rusi Tuima, Josh Hodge, Ben Hammersley and Joe Hawkins have all been breaking new ground down in Devon, with Daffyd Jenkins leading from the front after being named as captain at a Premiership record-setting age of just 19 years and 342 days.

Whilst the likes of the Simmonds brothers, Jack Nowell, Dave Ewers and Luke Cowan-Dickie moved on to new clubs, Stuart Hogg, Ben Moon and Iain Whitten called time on their playing careers and entered their lives after rugby. Now, a new contingency of ‘elder statesmen’ has emerged to usher in the next generation, and one such player among this group is scrum half Stu Townsend.

Despite being only 28-years-old, Townsend is stepping into this ‘veteran’ role, and discussed how he has been impressed by the young guns that are taking their opportunities in the Champions Cup. Speaking in the Exeter Chiefs mid-week media, Townsend said;

Stuart Townsend of Exeter Chiefs during an Exeter Chiefs training session at Sandy Park on Dec 9, 2020 in Exeter, Devon, England (Photo by Phil Mingo/PPAUK)

“I think the most exciting thing is, it’s a fresh competition for them. They’ve never been in the European Cup, and they’re just going out there and just playing rugby like they would as a youngster. It’s exciting to get behind. Some of the players we’ve got are 20, 21-years-old, (they) are your next Jack Nowells and Henry Slades, so it’s like, just keep going with them.”

“It’s nice, I think it’s, it’s very refreshing. They’re obviously learning all the time. Look, some of the players are teaching us and it’s a great squad at the minute, they’re thriving to get out there and go and play. So just keep jumping on the bandwagon, and go with them.”

Try Celebrations for Jack Nowell of Exeter Chiefs during the Heineken Champions Cup Pool A match between Exeter Chiefs and Castres Olympique at Sandy Park, Exeter on 21st January 2023. Photo: Tom Sandberg/PPAUK

Just seven Exeter players remain at the club from the match-day 23 which won the 2020 Champions Cup Final. Henry Slade, Jack Yeandle, Jack Maunder, Alec Hepburn, Jonny Gray, Jacques Vermeulen and Ollie Devoto make up this group, as Townsend was absent for the win over Racing 92 with an injury. The scrum half discussed how this group of more experienced Exeter stalwarts adds a strong leadership role to the squad, to guide the younger players through from strength to strength.

“When you’re in those scenarios, you don’t want too many talkers. But, the likes of Sladey and Yeandle, they’re good leaders. They kind of get behind (the young players), they know what to say in the right times. I think those guys are doing the best thing that they can, and they’re just following those boys. Again, the messages following it, and then they’re going out there and just ripping it up.”

Henry Slade of Exeter Chiefs during the Gallagher Premiership Rugby Match between Bath Rugby and Exeter Chiefs at the Recreation Ground on 2 December 2023. Photo: Tom Sandberg/PPAUK

Exeter fans would be delighted to hear the recent reports, that their flying wing Immanuel Feyi-Waboso looks set to remain with the club. The Cardiff-born star was name-checked by England head coach Steve Borthwick as a player to be pushing for a spot in the 2024 Six Nations, and will be attending a pre-competition regional camp, which solidified his goals to wear the rose instead of playing for Wales.

It is understood that Feyi-Waboso is also studying medicine at the University of Exeter, and the wing is comfortable to stay in Devon. The 21-year-old has not been tempted with a move back to Wales, in the hopes of pursuing an international career with Warren Gatland’s side. This was also seen when Chiefs centre Joe Hawkins left the Ospreys in favour of a move to Exeter, and forfeited his place in the Welsh Rugby World Cup squad, due to not having 25 test caps for the country.

Immanuel Feyi-Waboso of Exeter Chiefs during the Gallagher Premiership match between Exeter Chiefs and Gloucester Rugby at Sandy Park, Exeter on 19th Nov 2023. Photo: Tom Sandberg/PPAUK

Speaking on Feyi-Waboso’s contributions for the Chiefs and his international goals, Townsend said;

“He’s a great guy to have around, whatever he wants to do he goes and does. But I hold nothing against him, he’s a hell of a player, he’s 21-years-old and he’s ripping up the Premiership and fair play to him. He’s a hell of an athlete. And I’m sure we’ll see a lot more in the future, whether it’s in the Premiership, England or Wales, really.”

Stuart Townsend of Exeter Chiefs during the Exeter Chiefs training session at Sandy Park on 6th April 2022. Photo: Phil Mingo/PPAUK

Exeter return to the Champions Cup after a brutal end to their latest Premiership block. The Chiefs came unstuck in the final play against Northampton Saints, and suffered a 42-36 defeat at Sandy Park. Despite leading 26-0, Townsend admitted how the Chiefs may have been complacent in their position, and spoke about their mentality after the narrow defeat to the league leaders.

“I think any opportunities you get you want to take, and they kind of fell our way. We got stopped a couple times in that first half, but the pleasing thing was our attitude, was kind of forget about that, and (move on to the) next job. We went on, we attacked again, got to try, and we just kept repeating that.

“I don’t know, but maybe we did get a little bit complacent. Maybe thinking 26-0, but fair play to Northampton who came back from that. A few decisions with the yellow cards didn’t go our way, but there’s no excuses. It was a great game of rugby, and we put on a show really.”

“It’s a tough one to take obviously being on the wrong side of it. But what a game of rugby, so, hopefully, people realise that we are in contention this year (for the Premiership title). They’re (Northampton) the top side in the premiership at the minute and we were that close to beating them. And fair play to Northampton coming back from that, after the first 30 minutes, they’re a great side. I think we were capable of beating them for sure.

“There was a little bit of a down (emotions), after the game, but we kind of looked at it and took the positives, we took two points. We ran the top side, top of the league, ran them close, and you got to take the positives from those games. Yeah, our defence could have a little bit of work, but other than that, I thought we attacked the game, and we went after them, and we’re very close.”

Try Celebrations for Ollie Devoto of Exeter Chiefs as Henry Slade of Exeter Chiefs goes over for a try to seal the Win during the Investec Champions Cup match between Exeter Chiefs and Munster at Sandy Park, Exeter on 17th Dec 2023. Photo: Tom Sandberg/PPAUK

Looking towards the return to Champions Cup action, Townsend admitted how there had been an added buzz around the competition after their opening away win over Toulon, and then beating Munster at Sandy Park. The impressive duo of victories has given the Chiefs an added lift, with the matches re-visited as preparations heat up ahead of this weekend’s battle against Glasgow Warriors, and then the trip to Bayonne in a fortnight’s time.

“We kind of put that to bed when we went back into the Premiership, but we re-lived it this week. The side we are, we can go and beat these huge teams, and they’re just going take confidence from that and go and do it again on Saturday.”

“I think going away to France is hard enough in any competition even in the Top 14. You know, they (French clubs) are renowned for being good at home. So going away to any French side, it’s tough to turn them over on their own turf. So I think any win away in the European Cup is a massive highlight. So we just keep going after it.”

Following this two-week spell in the Champions Cup, Exeter Chiefs take on Saracens back in the Premiership before the league enters an extended break period. The break coincides with the 2024 Six Nations, and Townsend is eager to finish strong, with all adulation going to his previously overlooked young Chiefs side.

“The potential in this side is huge, people had written us off at the start of season. ‘This Exeter Chiefs squad is a new squad, young squad. It’s going to take them time’. But, fair play to the guys, they’ve got straight into it for some good work in pre-season from the Premiership Cup and into the Premiership and I think people now are starting to realise that we’re not a side that are going to roll over.”

“If we knock off this weekend, and then we can kind of look forward. We’re focusing on Glasgow this week, but if we can go three from three, in these last three games, I think it’d be a massive boost for us going into the into the break. If it doesn’t happen like that. I’m sure we’ll re-group and there’s still a lot to play for him when we come back.”

“This Premiership at the minute is eight teams, or nine teams all going for this, and it’s going to be the tightest one yet I reckon.”