Newcastle Falcons back three prospect Josh Hodge was one of the stars of England’s U20 campaign last season and is featuring again prominently this campaign, something which seems to have piqued the interest of Gallagher Premiership side Exeter Chiefs.

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Exeter sit top of the Premiership table currently and are fine-tuning their already formidable side for another assault on domestic and European honours in the 2020/21 season. With Saracens set to be relegated to the Greene King IPA Championship at the end of this season, the Devon-based side’s biggest obstacle to success in recent years has been removed.

Rob Baxter strengthened the club with the addition of Stuart Hogg last year and has been proactive in his recruitment of highly-talented Wales U18 second row Christ Tshiunza, with the Whitchurch High School product, who has featured for Exeter’s U18 side this season, set to join in the summer.

A division below Exeter and Newcastle look strong favourites to return to the Premiership at the first time of asking, with the side from the north-east currently sitting 12 points above second-placed Ealing Trailfinders. Their likely return to the Premiership will not necessarily be enough to see them keep hold of one of their top young talents, however, as RugbyPass understand that Hodge is nearing close to a move to Exeter for next season.

With Hogg an incumbent in the Scotland side, the veteran full-back misses two large chunks of Exeter’s season as he is consistently involved in the Guinness Six Nations and the November Internationals, not to mention a likely touring member with the British and Irish Lions next year, and Hodge would give Baxter an exciting and versatile back three talent who can learn from and deputise for Hogg when necessary.

Hodge’s potential and talent were recently rewarded when England head coach Eddie Jones called him up to the senior squad as an apprentice for the opening fixture against France and though playing time would be harder to come by at Exeter than it is at Newcastle, it’s a move that few players in English club rugby would turn down. It would also unite Hodge with probable future England teammates Jack Nowell, Henry Slade and Luke Cowan-Dickie, among others.

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Aggressive recruitment of young stars seems to be on the up in English rugby, with Cameron Redpath recently having been bought out of his Sale Sharks contract by Bath, and Worcester Warriors pair Ollie Lawrence and Ted Hill earning lucrative new deals in the West Midlands to ward off particularly keen interest from rival clubs. There are multiple senior academy players also on the radar of clubs wishing to bite the bullet and pay the compensation required to get them out of their current deals.

If Exeter do complete the signing of Hodge, it will be a savvy move from the table-topping side, who have contracted far more extensively in the forward pack from their junior academy of late and the Newcastle flyer could add some x-factor to a back line group that are going to need to replace the veteran trio of Gareth Steenson, Phil Dollman and Ian Whitten in the coming seasons.

Watch: The Rugby Pod – Season 4 Episode 27

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