Players moving on presents an intriguing challenge for the Chiefs

Jonny Hill of Exeter Chiefs on the break is tackled by Nick Phipps of London Irish during the Gallag

Jonny Hill of Exeter Chiefs on the break is tackled by Nick Phipps of London Irish during the Gallagher Premiership match between Exeter Chiefs and London Irish at Sandy Park on 23 Oct 2021. Photo: Phil Mingo/PPAUK - Credit: Phil Mingo/PPAUK

This is always a slightly turbulent time of year for a professional rugby squad with the January window of opportunity, where clubs are supposed to conduct all of the new signings and resigning of the current ‘stock’. 

It is definitely an exciting and interesting to watch now, as a fan, but, as a player, I have always disliked the pressures that come with short-term playing contracts and the yearly merry-go-round of players.  

Some players are lucky enough to lock in with clubs for 3+ year contracts, which gives plenty of room for them to concentrate on the day-to-day business of sport. However, a 12-month or two-year contract is always a tough process with the negotiation of a new contract seemingly creeping around the corner in such a fickle game. 

The Christmas period this time around has seen some big changes and some that have surprised me hugely. The loss of Long Jon (Jonny Hill) and Skins (Sam Skinner), both fellow Rib Ticklers, leaves huge gaps to fill in the coming years, as they have proven to be two very influential players when it comes to the Chiefs’ line-out and set-piece. 

Skins is following his international aspirations, no doubt, and to a place of his heritage, I have no doubt that this guy will succeed. From minute one at the club, Skins made a huge impression on me, a strong experienced head on a young body with the desire to learn and win. 

And Jon’s qualities are all there to see, a proper Lion in my eyes, who fully deserves to be considered one of the best locks around. Both are a big loss to the Chiefs but I’m sure they will prosper in their futures. The next question is who and how will the Chiefs replace these guys? Not easily, that’s for sure… 

The Chiefs aren’t the only club with holes to fill with moves like those of Ford and Genge from the form side in Europe at the moment shows that you need to strike when the iron is hot.  

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Some players may be sacrificing potential, continued success at one club for the promise and opportunity at another. The Business of rugby at the moment is as a tough as ever, similarly to almost every industry, leading to an almost yearly change in title contenders.  

Two or three years ago, you wouldn’t have pinned Leicester and Harlequins as the two teams to be setting the pace for the rest to follow. 

I’m sure there are some interesting conversations happening in the coaches’ office, as the Chiefs continue to adjust to salary cap and balancing the books. [Director of Rugby] Rob Baxter himself has been talking in the media about player wage expectation being unrealistic. In my opinion, the ability to maintain a competitive silverware winning squad is more difficult than ever.  

The coaching staff at the club have always seemed to be able to pull players from obscurity and help them excel, and I am sure Rob and the team has a plan, not a very straight forward one, but a plan to carry the club forward. 

It happens at all clubs and every year I would like to hazard a guess that the Chiefs are usually the least likely to churn out a huge amount of players. Rob has traditionally tweaked the squad and added where necessary. A little more drastic recruitment needed to replace the superstars moving on this year and I look forward to hearing all about it from my armchair. 

Or even at Sandy Park, along with another 14,000 people turning out to watch the game in new year. Showing that support for the team is there and I, for one, look forward to the chance to stand or sit in the new East Stand to watch the boys do their thing. 

Exeter Chiefs player Sam Skinner gathers a line out during the Gallagher Premiership Rugby Match bet

Exeter Chiefs player Sam Skinner gathers a line out during the Gallagher Premiership Rugby Match between Sale Sharks and Exeter Chiefs at the AJ Bell Stadium on 26 Feb. Photo: Steve Bond/PPAUK - Credit: Steve Bond/PPAUK