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How Exeter view 'unique' brother-vs-brother scrum-half challenge

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)

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Rob Baxter is intrigued with the head-to-head Maunder family battle that has developed in recent weeks at Exeter, younger brother Sam moving up the selection pecking to contest the scrum-half selection with Jack, the one-cap England No9 who has been the regular first-choice pick at the Chiefs for quite some time. Sam Hidalgo-Clyne had been the preferred backup to the 24-year-old starter for the opening block of Gallagher Premiership fixtures this term. 

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However, the 21-year-old Sam Maunder started both Premiership Cup games last month and has remained involved since then, coming off the bench for brother Jack in the league at Bath and last Saturday versus Montpellier in Europe either side of his unused replacement role versus arch Premiership rivals Saracens.   

The youngster’s recent re-emergence following some fleeting exposure as a teenager in the 2018/19 and 2019/20 campaigns has generated selection intrigue at Exeter where the Simmonds brothers, recent Lions pick Sam and club skipper Joe, have long been the dominant family name at Sandy Park. 

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However, whereas that pair of brothers will always be teammates in that one is a back-rower at No8 and the other an out-half, the situation regarding the Maunder brothers is unusual in that they are both specialist scrum-halves and only one can be on the pitch at any one time unless there is an emergency.   

That happened once just over two years ago, Sam coming off the bench to play with Jack and not replace him in an October 2019 Premiership Cup win at Worcester. But aside from that, they have a rather unique brotherly rivalry. “It’s going to be interesting, isn’t it? A pair of brothers who play in the same position,” purred Exeter boss Baxter when quizzed about the Maunder sibling rivalry by RugbyPass.

“For obvious reasons, it is going to be rare they are going to be on the pitch together which in itself is probably a bit of a unique challenge, but at the same time they are both very competitive guys, they both want to be part of a very competitive squad and currently those two guys fighting it out is an important part of what we want to have as a club. I can’t tell you what they are both thinking because it’s different: your brother is fighting for the same position, it’s not for someone else to comment on it. All I can say is that it is working very well. They are both training very diligently, they are both good guys, they are different characters. 

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“They are not a morph of each other so they are both their own personalities and they both get on with things in their own way and they both do their own things and both have a long history with the club and it means a lot for them to play. There isn’t any negative there about it, it’s just one of those anomalies that happen every now and again.”

Asked to elaborate on the differences between the Maunder brothers, Baxter added: “It’s not as simple as me to say one of two things but when you are around them on a day to day basis you can see they see things slightly different, they talk in a different way, they approach players a different way, have a slightly different sense of humour. It’s those kinds of things. It’s not like one guy turns up in a Porsche and one guy turns up on a bike, it’s not like that. It’s just those little things that you get in any family.”

It was last April, in an extensive interview with RugbyPass, that Jack Maunder spoke about living the dream at Exeter with his younger brother, something that began in September 2018 when Sam made his Premiership debut off the bench in place of big brother. Thirteen months later they finally had some shared minutes together on the pitch. “We’d a few injuries in the backline so my brother came on at full-back and I was playing nine,” said Maunder about the only time the pair have so far been on the pitch together for the Chiefs. 

“There was one breakdown and I was getting cramps so I had to call my brother from across the pitch. Sammy did the box kick and I chased so it was a Maunder kicking for a Maunder. That was cool, but that Sale game is something I will never forget. We had 30 family members watching and had a big dinner after. That was a very special moment.”

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