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'It's been a shame it hasn't been an amazing time for him': Exeter's bittersweet Cuthbert exit

By Liam Heagney

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Rob Baxter has reflected on the bittersweet truncated career that winger Alex Cuthbert has had at title-chasing Exeter these past three seasons. The 31-year-old 2013 Lions pick won the last of his 47 Wales caps in 2017 and his switch the following year to the Chiefs hasn’t been without its frustrations as he spent more time out injured than on the pitch. Cuthbert will now move to Ospreys at the end of the season after being one of the eight leavers confirmed by Exeter, the other seven being Joe Snow, Barry Karea, Elvis Taione, Tomas Francis, Tom Price, James Short and Charlie Wright.

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While Cuthbert is primed to say farewell on the back of a big-game appearance as he is set to feature on the wing in next Saturday’s Gallagher Premiership final versus Harlequins, his impressive late-season re-emergence in the team is a sharp reminder of what could have been at Exeter had he been fit on a more frequent basis.

Of the 71 Premiership matches Exeter have played during Cuthbert’s three years at the club, he has only played in 26 – a 36 per cent availability due to regular soft tissue injuries such as hamstrings and the like. That is a frustrating lack of bang for their overall buck because when Cuthbert does manage to play his has an uncanny knack of delivering.

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Take his seven appearances in this season’s 23-game Premiership campaign, including last Saturday’s impressive show in the semi-final win over Sale. He has made 406 metres off 48 carries, made 28 tackles, beaten 22 defenders, made 13 clean breaks, given five offloads and scored four tries. Imagine then what those numbers would be like if he was available for selection for more than a third of the games.

“That is it wrapped in a nutshell,” said Baxter, reflecting on Cuthbert’s three years at the club which will come to an end after next weekend. “You look on his career here, which has been a good career, and he is a guy who could have had an amazing career here, had amazing things to look back on (instead of) amazing games he hasn’t been able to be involved in through injury, long periods of rehab rather than having long periods of games. That’s exactly how his time will be here.

“I have certainly not had any regrets in bringing him here because of the player he has been and the energy he has been around the place and the friendships he has created and also the actual big games he has been involved in for us. I still believe it has been a win-win scenario for both ourselves and for Alex. It’s been a shame it has not been an amazing time for him just based on those injury issues.”

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So highly thought of is Cuthbert when he is available that Baxter started him last weekend on the wing in a back three where Jack Nowell was accommodated at full-back with Scotland skipper Stuart Hogg demoted to the bench. It’s that calibre of backup that will ensure Exeter aren’t rushing into the market to find a replacement for Cuthbert.

“Not necessarily like for like,” said Baxter when asked about bringing in someone else. “If you actually look at the make-up of where we are in our squad, when you look at the back three, if you took Alex out of that back three now you could move Jack Nowell over to wing and put Stuart on at full-back. If you look at our next guys in behind, you have got Olly Woodburn who has played a lot of very good rugby for us.

“Facundo Cordero has really started to make his mark in the Premiership this year. Josh Hodge looks like a player who has got an amazing future for me as a back three and we have got some very good young talent underneath there as well. Don’t forget we have always got the old warhorse Ian Whitten who can step in and do a job on the wing. Sean O’Brien, one of the (new) centres, is training really well, looks like he could easily feature there if needed.

“And then we have got some young guys in the academy. I mean, Arthur Relton had a good game for England U20s just this week and he is a young winger here on our books and we have got a couple of other good academy players. We have got some good guys and we are well stocked in the back three. I can see a bright future for a number of the guys there who potentially an older player moving on can create an opportunity for.”

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'It's been a shame it hasn't been an amazing time for him': Exeter's bittersweet Cuthbert exit

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