Exeter will err on the side of caution in handling the latest injury concern surrounding Alex Cuthbert, the former Wales winger whose effort last weekend in the Gallagher Premiership win over London Irish was hailed as “phenomenal” by assistant coach Ali Hepher.

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Last capped in 2017, the 30-year-old Cuthbert returned to action in recent weeks having not featured on the Exeter teamsheet since the round 22 2019/20 league defeat at Wasps on October 4.

A significant muscle tear meant he went 18 weeks in between matches before making his comeback at Newcastle last Sunday week. However, while he scored a try last weekend against Irish and registered a 73-metre gain from his six runs, he was whipped off early by Exeter for fear that he could cause himself another time-consuming injury after his lower back stiffened up.

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“He’s a bit sore,” reported Exeter boss Rob Baxter ahead of next Saturday’s Sandy Park clash with Northampton, the club they defeated last September in the quarter-finals en route to winning the Heineken Champions Cup.

“People are aware he has had quite a long injury period. It started to tighten up. He was playing fantastic. Everyone watching the game could see how well he was playing last week but he just started to stiffen up around his lower back, a bit of neural tightness and tension which gave him a little bit of hamstring tightness.

“We weren’t going to hang around. We got him off then. There is no point in us getting someone back fit and then we push him through too hard. We took that precaution which means he is okay but we’re just going to be very careful whether we push it through again so quickly or whether we get him back to 100 per cent before we put him back on the field. It’s a monitoring situation.”

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Baxter was chuffed with how Cuthbert performed after his latest lengthy layoff from playing. “It doesn’t surprise me,” he continued. “We are aware that he has got those capabilities but also he is one of the guys who works exceptionally hard.

“When you talk to physios they just think he is a delight to work with, very professional, works very hard, and so he has the capabilities of getting himself up to that top-end over his rehab period.

“The problem is performing at that top end is what leaves you open to injury issues. I haven’t pulled a hamstring in my rugby career, but then I never ran anywhere near that fast and that probably tells its own story. You have got to move at speed to do that kind of damage to yourself.

“We’re just going to have to monitor and look after him. It’s early in his return considering the length of time he has had out so it’s our responsibility to try and get him the right game time at the right time.

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“He goes out and he goes flat out he knocks himself about. It’s probably the same with Jack Nowell. He tends to also pick up a lot of injuries. There are some guys who can go flat out and by going flat out right at the edge of your capabilities that is when you are a little bit open to injuries.”

With Cuthbert being monitored to ensure there is no lasting damage following his two-game comeback, Exeter have been buoyed with Nowell’s training ground progress since his October operation on a toe ligament.

“Jack Nowell has been in full training this week,” relayed Baxter. “We’re hoping if his loading goes well he can be declared fit to play by the end of this week. If he has no repercussions from anything this week he could be cleared and available from Friday.”

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