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'We have got to have hopes of getting quite a few in': The eve-of-selection mood at Exeter

By Liam Heagney

Trending on RugbyPass

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Rob Baxter has described the eve-of-selection mood at Exeter, the 2019/20 double winners, who are hoping to enjoy a far greater representation on the 2021 Lions tour to South Africa than the single pick they managed in 2017.  

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England winger Jack Nowell was the sole Chiefs player chosen to tour New Zealand in 2017, but there is an optimistic mood prevailing at Sandy Park that the figure will be higher when Gatland announces on Thursday the identity of the 36 players he will be bringing to the home of the Springboks.

Aside from potentially having the recently fit-again Nowell in the mix, Exeter have multiple other candidates in their ranks. They include Scotland skipper Stuart Hogg, a 2017 Lions pick when he was at Glasgow before his switch to the Premiership. 

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Other Exeter players capped during the recent Guinness Six Nations include England’s Luke Cowan-Dickie, Harry Williams, Jonny Hill and Henry Slade, Wales’ Tomas Francis and Scotland’s Jonny Gray and Sam Skinner. The Simmonds brothers have also been in the Lions conversation despite back-rower Sam – last capped in 2018 – and uncapped out-half Joe being overlooked by England boss Eddie Jones. 

It has all generated a frisson of excitement at the club ahead of Thursday’s Lions squad announcement by Gatland and the only disappointment from Baxter’s perspective is that it is a day off for the player so they won’t be together when the 36 names are called out from London over the TV. 

“Difficult,” said Baxter when asked what the Lions mood was at the Exeter. “Because guys don’t really want to talk about it. The guys who are genuinely in the reckoning don’t really want to talk about it too much because for obvious reasons they don’t want to do anything unlucky which I can understand. 

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“And the guys who are not quite in there don’t want to say too much because they don’t want to feel bad for other people. It’s a difficult scenario. It’s a shame it’s a Thursday which is our day off because it is always nice to see the guys quickly but I kind of have the feeling that quite a few of the guys are pleased they are going to find out on their own and deal with the circumstances on their own for a little bit first before they come in on Friday.

“We have got to have hopes of getting quite a few in,” he continued when asked will Exeter come out of the Lions selection better than they did in 2017. “Now that doesn’t mean that will necessarily happen but if you think based on the last two or three years of form, where we have been as a club, the international form some of our players have been in as well, you have got to say there is a group there who are certainly in the reckoning. 

“It doesn’t take a genius to work out who they are and the outside of our international players we have got guys who have had really good seasons both in Europe and the Premiership the last couple of years. Guys are very aware there is a lot of chat around the Simmonds boys and guys like that who haven’t been picking up internationals at the moment. We have got a collection of players who have played well, both internationally and domestically, so we should be hopeful to get a number in there.”

Asked about the possible significance of the selection for either of the Simmonds brothers given their repeated omission by England, the Exeter boss added: “I don’t know if it is any more significant because it [the Lions] gets selected in a different way. That is the reality of the scenario. It is a different selection aiming to achieve something different. 

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“It’s a fantastic achievement if they can do it but I am not one of these people that wants to make a significant issue why one thing happens and the other doesn’t because there are numerous reasons why that can happen.

“That is why it has just got to be down to players to keep training hard, playing hard, playing well in front of coaches when it really matters in important times which those guys have done, particularly around the Lions selection situation so we are just sitting here crossing our fingers and hoping the best for them all.” 

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'We have got to have hopes of getting quite a few in': The eve-of-selection mood at Exeter

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