The 27-year-old hooker today confirmed that his playing career has come to an end following discussions with leading specialists over a degenerative neck injury.
Whitehead was one of Exeter's two try-scorers in their recent LV= Cup Final success over Northampton Saints at Sandy Park. However, that proved to be his 76th and last outing in club colours after a four-season stint in Devon.
Remarking on the news, Baxter said: “It wasn’t something that was a complete shock because we’ve been aware he’s had an on-going neck problem. At times it’s needed rest, at times it’s needed rehab. He’s had an operation and work on his neck over the time he’s been at Exeter, on different neck issues, but it got to the stage that he finally had some advice that for his long-term health he was better finishing.
“It’s very disappointing for Chrissy, that’s the most important thing. He’s a professional rugby player and he loves playing rugby and the hardest thing is on him. However, if there was ever a time to bow out playing for Exeter it is after we have won our first top-flight trophy. To be part of it as well, and play so well in the semi-final and final – he could easily have been man of the match in the final – is fantastic.
“His tackle stats in the final mirrored the game I analysed of him in the Championship that made me want to bring him to the club. When we played London Welsh in the home leg of the play-offs we had a heck of a game and we didn’t break through until the last 10 minutes and got a bonus point win very late on. I coded the game at the time and saw this hooker running around making so many tackles, I think he made about 24 in that game. In the final he made 21 or 22 tackles and that shows the contribution he was making."
Baxter added: “He’s been a really hard-working tough cookie and he’s played a big part in how the club has fared in the Premiership. He often doesn’t get talked about as one of the players who joined us in our first Premiership year. People talk about Luke Arscott because we played Bristol in the final, and we signed Sireli Naqelevuki and Jason Shoemark in that first year, but we signed Chrissy as well.
“It took him a little while to come through but there have been quite long periods when he’s been our No. 1 hooker. He’s done a fantastic job for us. He wants to stay around and be positive around the club, and make a positive contribution between now and the end of the season.
“All we can hope is that the future’s bright for him. He’s got his own business on the weight-training side of things and I hope he has every success in that. This was a decision he had to make. He’s about to become a father and there’s more to life than rugby. He’s made the right decision, albeit one that’s very difficult for him.”
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