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What Hogg classily texted Nowell after the England player took his Exeter No15 shirt

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Alex Davidson/Getty Images)

It can’t have been easy for Scotland skipper Stuart Hogg to swallow that Exeter were dropping him from their starting XV for the Gallagher Premiership semi-final versus Sale, a demotion that has now carried into this Saturday’s final versus Harlequins at Twickenham. In four weeks’ time the Scot is expected to be Lions No15 when the Test series starts in Cape Town versus the Springboks, so not making your club side for the biggest games of their season through a perceived lack of form is quite a bad look when it comes to next month’s ambition of tackling the South Africans. 


However, rather than throw any toys out of the pram, Hogg has sucked up his disappointment for the greater good of Exeter. We already know about the initial phone call Rob Baxter made to Hogg telling him he was being dropped for the semi-final following his display in the round 22 game of the league.  

We also know that Baxter held further discussions with his player last Monday to ensure the air was clear and that Hogg was primed to train as best he could this week even though he would have needed an injury to a fellow back three player if he was to get back into the starting Exeter XV for Twickenham. What we didn’t know was how Hogg originally reacted after the first Baxter phone call, classily congratulating the fit-again Jack Nowell for getting the No15 Exeter jersey off him. 

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Maro Itoje on what it is like playing for Saracens
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Maro Itoje on what it is like playing for Saracens

Nowell went on to do it justice, scoring twice and being brilliantly reliable under the high ball at Sandy Park, and it has now emerged that Hogg was fully appreciative of his rival’s re-emergence for what was just his fourth appearance in an injury-hit season. “It’s not ideal but to be fair, Stuart was the first person to actually text me,” said Nowell about the selection battle he was thrust into with Hogg.

“I didn’t see the team (named) but Stuart saw it and he was the first person to text me and said, ‘It’s awesome to see you back. I know you have had a bit of a shocking year but it’s awesome to see you back on the field’. It’s awesome to see that.

“It is difficult. No one likes to be dropped and no one likes to take someone else’s position but the way we look at it is these are big games and we all want to be involved in and remember so at the end of the day whoever is on the field does the job at the time, but Stuart is always going to come on and finish strong for us. As long as we are picking up that trophy at the end of the game that is all that really matters.”


Lifting a trophy at English rugby HQ would be an incredible finale to a terrible campaign for Nowell who didn’t reappear until April following last October’s toe ligament operation and he then had a further six-week layoff before Baxter picked him to start last weekend’s semi-final. 

“It has been a bit brutal. I have had my down days and stuff but I knew there is a lot more to play for. I knew if I sat back I probably wouldn’t have make it to these big games at the end of the year. I’m happy that I have dug in because this has alway been a big target for me. I love playing in these finals so I am glad the coaches are trusting me a little bit and the input of physios and stuff.

“My body feels awesome. I have had those niggles and unfortunately they are never going to go away but I feel like I am on top of them and I’m feeling really good to be fair. I haven’t got that muscle soreness, that rugby soreness that most of the boys have got after playing all year and I feel fresh. I feel like I am desperate to get involved with the boys and there is no better time than to do that at the moment.

I am desperate to go on the Lions tour again but I can’t be angry not being picked because I played one game on the week of selection. For me, it’s just about getting fit, being there, not looking too much forward. I’m desperate to get back involved with the England lads and with Eddie (Jones). I haven’t been there since the World Cup so hopefully this summer I can get back on, have a good off-season and attack next year.”


Saturday is Exeter’s sixth successive Premiership final, quite a feat for a club that only played its first-ever season in the Premiership in 2010/11. It’s obvious they have become the top team to beat in the league but Nowell isn’t taking anything for granted in this latest final versus Harlequins as memories of the Chiefs’ disastrous first appearance in the final, the 2016 loss to Saracens, are still fresh in his memory.  

“It’s weird. Five years ago we were the guys who made it to the top out of nowhere and we are almost expected to get to the final now. That’s certainly not what we are saying. We know how hard we work so we don’t feel lucky to be in the final. We still have that edge about us that we know what can happen. 

“Even though it was five years ago that first final against Sarries, we were unaware of what was going to happen. The boys were a bit rabbits in the headlights. Warm-up wasn’t the greatest and I still remember it to this day. It’s certainly one thing we don’t want to happen to us again. The excitement and buzz of getting there is still certainly there. It’s not a given and we have never played Quins in this situation before. It’s a new one and one we have got to go and attack.”


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