Rob Baxter’s forward thinking at Sandy Park has continued with news that both Mitch Lees and Ian Whitten have committed their futures to the Exeter Chiefs.
Just days after long-serving fly-half Gareth Steenson put pen to paper on a new three-year contract, two of his club-mates have followed suit by agreeing similar terms that will keep them at the club until 2021.
Director of Rugby Baxter makes no secret that his first priority is often retention of players ahead of recruitment and he says keeping hold of two of his more senior stars is paramount moving forward.
“Obviously we’re delighted that both Mitch and Whitts have signed new deals,” said Baxter. “Both are important members of the squad, so to have them around the place for another three years is fantastic news for us.
“Both have come to us through different routes, but both have taken their opportunity here with both hands. Whitts has obviously been here a little bit longer, but he’s played a lot of very high quality games and been a key part of helping drive us forward as a club.
“For me, it was an easy decision to ask him to stay. From day one, he’s a guy you can see who takes his training and his rugby very seriously. When we first looked at him, he was a player who had played a fair bit for Ulster, but he was just below that frontline for them and he was desperate to come somewhere where he would play more regularly.
“And I think by allowing a player that opportunity that is when they not only start to improve, but they also start to thrive in that environment. Anyone who knows him knows he’s a the last guy to finish training and that he looks after himself very well. It’s no surprise he’s played a lot of games for us because his preparation and the way he gets himself ready each week is first class.
“Yes, he’s one of the guys who likes a beer after the game and enjoy the fun moments we have together, but equally he knows when you come to work, you are here to work extremely hard and drive the culture that we are going to out work the opposition and try to be a better side every week.”
Likewise, Baxter knows Aussie lock Lees, 29, offers an equally importance presence to that of Whitten, 30, who signed for the Chiefs back in the summer of 2012 from Ulster.
Recruited from then Championship outfit London Welsh in 2014, Sydney-born Lees is another who has thrived in the Chiefs environment, establishing himself as one of the club’s frontline forwards in recent seasons.
Baxter added: “Mitch took the opportunity to come to this country to play professional rugby at London Welsh and as people know, we often look at the Championship as an important breeding ground for players. We took a really close look at Mitch and we liked what we saw.
“He’s come in and become a very important cog in our forward machine. Again, he is someone who has taken on board a lot of the lessons that have been asked of him, both from myself and Rob Hunter, and although as a club we’d like to take credit for his development over the past few years, I think you have to hand him a great deal of credit as well because here is a guy who has taken the opportunity given to him, worked hard to improve, and ultimately he’s got better and better.
“I do believe that physically he’s still improving, as is his game understanding, and he’s a guy who who over the next two or three years I would be disappointed if we don’t see him keep on improving. If you actually look at his career to date, he’s someone who has not actually played a huge amount of frontline rugby, but I know we will look to drive his game forward and equally I know he’s very ambitious to play in big games.
“I’ve no doubt, a bit like Whitts, Mitch will be a key player for us moving forward and that he will help drive standards onwards and upwards here at the club.”
Member since: 5th January 2016
Hi, I am Mark Stevens, Media and Communications Manager for the Exeter Chiefs