'He's basically going around giving stick to every injured player'
Luke Cowan-Dickie was forced to miss the Autumn Nations Series with England due to a significant ankle ligament injury, but Exeter boss Rob Baxter has reported that his hooker is now back and firing at his best following his inclusion in the 36-strong national team squad that will assemble in Brighton next Monday for a week’s training.
The injury arrived at an unfortunate time for the 28-year-old. Having played second fiddle to Jamie George for numerous years, he claimed the No2 England shirt on merit during the 2021 Six Nations and he went on to eclipse his fellow Englishman when they pair subsequently toured South Africa with the Lions.
With George then omitted from the original England squad for the Six Nations, the way was clear for Cowan-Dickie to consolidate his newfound status as the first-choice hooker. However, injury with Exeter in the Gallagher Premiership resulted in him having to pull out, a development that allowed George to get a recall and go on to start the games versus Tonga and Australia.
Cowan-Dickie, though, put his layoff to positive use at the Chiefs and Rob Baxter this week enthused about the attitude of a player whose vibrant energy came in handy in helping Exeter to overcome some early-season inconsistencies and enjoy some welcome good form in recent weeks.
“He is flat out again now,” reported Baxter regarding Cowan-Dickie, the Exeter forward who is one of three hookers in the latest England squad alongside George and Jamie Blamire, who took the starting short for the series-ending finale versus South Africa in November.
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“He actually used his injury period to restrengthen a few things. He lost a little body fat, gained a little bit of muscularity which is harder to do when you are playing, so he looks in great physical shape. He has certainly recharged his energy and emotional batteries and he looks like a really interesting character. When he is injured in the last two, three weeks of his rehab he is basically going around giving stick to every injured player telling them why aren’t they on the pitch playing because has got a proper injury and they are just dragging it out and they have just got a sore toe or something like that.
“He is actually quite a good person walking around the changing room telling people to get on the pitch and train because if he wasn’t injured he would be. And sometimes those kinds of things, you start to feel restless energy from him at the end stage of any injury rehab and that means he is virtually nearly always ready to go.
“Within a week of being declared fit and in full training he is pretty much banging down the door asking me why is he not being picked and why wasn’t he picked two weeks ago. He even walks past in a plaster cast sometimes thinking I’ll be available this week if I can get this taken off on Wednesday. That is how he is and that kind of vibrant energy is what you want around a rugby club. It brings everybody through and that is the thing he just adds around the place.”
One thing that England boss successfully did for the autumn was to bolster the senior leadership group around skipper Owen Farrell. Courtney Lawes, who wound up being the matchday skipper in Farrell’s absence against Tonga and South Africa, Ellis Genge and Tom Curry were chosen as vice-captains and but for his injury, Cowan-Dickie would have been included in this select group who set the standards during camp.
That, reckoned Baxter, would have been a just reward for Exeter front-rower Cowan-Dickie in “rounding off the package” of what he brings to a squad. “There is a lot of things about it that just make it [leadership] quite natural for him. He is actually quite a natural leader in a lot of ways around the club for years and has been in certain elements.
“But what you are seeing is it is becoming more across the board. The whole thing about leading a group to see things in a certain way, moving forward now that environment needs to be created in training as well and across other elements that are outside the game because one thing you can always say about Luke is he has always been a match-animal, it has always been about the game and his performance levels have never wavered in a game.
“His full-blooded commitment in every single game has never wavered. He would admit himself he has not always been the archetypal professional off the field in giving himself the best chance to be the absolute best player he can on the field and those are just some of the things that just evened out as he matured as a player and become more experienced, and that is what has started to round him off as more of a leader.
“He has still got that natural, aggressive leadership, ‘C’mon, we are going to go out there to fight for this’ type element about him as well, but if you want to lead like that then you have got to set examples in other things that you do as well. That is what he has got, he is just rounding off the package.”
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