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Exeter turn to Bath to quickly fill the gap left by van Heerden

By Sam Smith
Mike Williams (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

Rob Baxter has moved quickly to replace the departed Ruben van Heerden, agreeing to a deal that has taken Mike Williams from Bath to Exeter for the remainder of the 2022/23 season. The 25-year-old van Heerden had made 14 appearances for the Chiefs this season since his July arrival in England, but homesickness left the South African taking up a contract offer back home with the URC Stormers.

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That departure put pressure on director of rugby Baxter to act quickly and the void has now been filled by Williams. An Exeter statement read: “The 31-year-old Mike Williams has agreed a deal until the end of the current campaign, but Rob Baxter has said the option could be there to extend that stay further should the Zimbabwean-born star impress between now and then.

“With over 100 Premiership appearances to his name, the 6ft 5in, 18st forward is well versed in the English game, having previously enjoyed spells with Worcester Warriors, Leicester Tigers and, more recently, Bath.”

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Williams said: “I’m looking forward to getting stuck in. I have obviously come up against the Chiefs a lot in the past, so I know a few of the guys well and what the team are capable of. They are a top side, packed full of high-profile individuals and a team who like to win.

“For me, it’s an honour to be here. With Ruben moving on, the opportunity came up for me to head down here and I’m looking forward to making the most of it. Already the guys have welcomed me with open arms. You can see the boys are a tight group, not just off the field, but also on the field as well.

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“It’s an amazing time to join. Playing against the Chiefs you always know what they are capable of and that you’re in a game against them. Sandy Park is one of the toughest places to come and play as an opposing team, so it’s pretty cool that I’m here now and on the other side of things.”

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Baxter added: “Having agreed to release Ruben last week, it did leave us a little light in the second row. At the same time, Mike became available for various reasons at Bath, it’s a little complex and I won’t go into that now, but the opportunity for him to play at Bath were going to be limited.

“They were prepared because of that instance to release him; he’s fully fit, he’s in full training and ready to go, so for us we’re delighted to bring in a guy who, most people if they watch the Premiership regularly, will know is a proven performer.

“He’s also got that level of experience to come in and slot in straight away, so it’s a great fit for us in many ways. A lot of the guys know him already and I think he will be a great addition to our squad.

“Coming here he has got something to prove, contracts to earn, this is what you want at the club. I think he will come in and do a really good job for us. Obviously, we have got to get a bit of training into him and get him up to speed with how we play, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised seeing him involved in the next few weeks.

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“He’s here initially on a short-term deal, but the opportunity is there for Mike to try and earn himself a longer contract. We want guys to come here with a point to prove, a chip on the shoulder, however you want to talk about it, and get out on the pitch and see what they can do. He can run around, he can scrum and maul, if you run into him he will knock you over, but the important thing is to get him embedded as quickly as we can and see where it takes us.”

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