Exeter will begin their Gallagher Premiership title defence without South African flanker Jacques Vermeulen after he underwent shoulder surgery that will sideline him “for an extended period”, their England wing Jack Nowell is continuing his recovery from a toe operation, but hooker Luke Cowan-Dickie is close to returning following a minor knee procedure

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Defending champions Exeter return to Premiership action when they tackle Harlequins in Friday’s 2020/21 season-opening game just 27 days after they beat Wasps in the 2019/20 Twickenham final. “Jacques had a shoulder operation at the end of the season. He’s going to be out for a little while,” said Exeter boss Rob Baxter. “It was a relatively big operation, so he is going to be out for an extended period.

“Luke looks really good. He’s pretty much back in full training. His surgery was a tidy-up. Jack’s was a bit more serious. The operation is relatively complicated and then the monitoring and looking after it has to take time, otherwise, you have real issues. His is a little bit more long-term than Luke’s.”

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Thomas Waldrom given an entertaining insight into the characters in the Exeter dressing room

Exeter won the Premiership and Heineken Champions Cup last term – they became only the fourth English club to achieve such a feat in the same season – and Baxter is in a positive mood about the challenges ahead. Premiership and European action will come thick and fast, with no obvious breaks in the fixture calendar for a club – potentially like Exeter – that could reach both finals. The domestic season ends on June 26 next year.

The coronavirus pandemic caused last season to be delayed, finishing in late October, rather than June, with the new campaign then pushed back to a November 20 kick-off. Baxter added: “It is the shortest season that these lads will ever play in the Premiership.

“They have got the opportunity to win something or have a good season based on a season that is two months shorter than any other season, so although there is less opportunity to rotate (players), at the same time there are no more (additional) front-line games.

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“If anything, your international players will play far less front-line games because they are going to miss Premiership games when they are playing internationals. They are not going to miss rest weeks or Premiership Cup games.

“I like to look at the positive scenarios like a shorter season. Yes, we run straight into the Lions (the British and Irish Lions’ 2021 South Africa tour), but that’s the world we are in at the moment. We’ve had to adapt and get on with things.

“It will be just like last season. The team that adapts the quickest and gets on with things and doesn’t look for excuses will thrive in this environment. It will force clubs to look at the strength they’ve got in their squad, how they are going to use it, how they develop those players.

“If you look at an England player, it could add up to being 13 or 14 games, including rest periods, of Premiership rugby missed this season. It is what it is. It is one of those seasons, and sometimes we have all got to accept it is going to be tough and accept it for one season, and hopefully the calendar can reset after this year.”

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