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Why Exeter admire Nowell for making 'various body transformations'

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by PA)

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Exeter have claimed even better is still to come from Jack Nowell even though the winger has returned to top form this winter to earn a recall to an England squad he hasn’t played for since the 2019 World Cup in Tokyo. The 28-year-old’s career had been pegged back by injury in recent years but a revamp in his approach to the game – he shed 10kgs and quit the booze – has ensured he is back playing regularly and has caught the eye of Eddie Jones.  

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Where the revival ultimately takes Nowell is something Exeter boss Rob Baxter will watch with a keen interest in the coming weeks and months. “What he has done is he has played well and it is as simple as that,” reckoned the Chiefs director of rugby. “When Jack Nowell plays well he is a very good player. He is on form, he’s looking very sharp. You see more and more from him every game. 

“Looking at him there is a fair bit more because there is still stuff he is pushing in his game and that is the interesting thing for me. Also, as we play a bit better as a team there will be more opportunities for him and that is starting to happen, that is helping him. And if he is involved with England, if they show good form through the Six Nations, that could potentially create opportunities for him as well,” said Baxter, warming to the theme of discussing the Exeter revival of Nowell.  

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Rob Kearney and Alfie Barbeary – A Lion and a Wasp
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Rob Kearney and Alfie Barbeary – A Lion and a Wasp

“I still see him as one of these guys pushing forward. I certainly don’t see him as a guy who is managing himself at the end of his career type scenario because he is just not. What is he, he is only in his late 20s. 

“His career is nowhere near over if he stays injury-free for a period now and also staying injury-free for a while will just give him that natural touch for the ball that every player needs. There are still some really interesting things that Jack can achieve both in his career and individually. A lot of will be just regular training time and regular match time.”

There were fears that the decision by Nowell to shed weight could leave him lacking punch in the tackle, but Baxter hasn’t seen that happen at all with Exeter. “It doesn’t look like it,” he continued. “I would say he was as good at getting over the gain line in these last two or three weeks as I have seen him in the last two or three years. That was obviously going to be a concern. 

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“If he runs flat out into somebody and it is just a one-on-one collision, whether it is quite the same effect I am not quite sure but Jack has never really been that kind of a ball carrier.

“He has always moved the point of contact just before it happens and then been able to step through and drive through and that very much seems to be there. That is the key: his all-round game is still developing and moving on. He is a guy who wants to keep getting better.”

Baxter added his admiration for how Nowell has been able to thrive on both sides of the ledger, bulking up as he did for the most part of his career and now toning down to give himself a fresh lease of life and an injury-free run.  

“That extra power and bulk that he worked very hard at obviously helped him in certain areas and you certainly saw in his career the way he could break tackles and make metres out of nothing for us. That has been fantastic. Having said that, we are starting to see that again now at a slightly lighter weight. 

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“The one thing I am seeing an improvement on is there are more high-speed metres there. His kick-chase game, you really see it in that and you saw it last weekend against Glasgow, there was a turnover, he kicks through and he is gone. He was electric after the ball.

“He is a lot closer in and around the ball in box kick chase, so there is also an element of overall speed and repeat speed that is certainly there and there is bound to be an added amount of durability just because of that load he is putting on his body. 

“I’m really pleased with what he is doing. He is creating an ability to stay at the high end for a longer period which is what we want. He is one of those guys you have got to take your hat off to because he has created his physical ability not just through natural talent but he has worked extremely hard. 

“Some of these guys, they don’t quite get credit for the hard work they put in, the dedication they put into making various body transformations. Jack has made them in both, in more than one way.

“He has added the bulk that he needed from being a young player but he has also taken a decision now on how to best make sure that his physical attributes work alongside his natural attributes and those things he has aligned really well at the moment, hence the form he is playing at.”

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