Exeter season catches eye of England head coach Stuart Lancaster


Click to follow
The Independent Online

Exeter's memorable season that has been highlighted by Heineken Cup qualification for the first time could soon receive recognition from Stuart Lancaster.

The new England head coach is currently identifying players for his 40-man squad that will head to South Africa later this month on a demanding three-Test tour.

And the indications are that Exeter will be represented in Springbok country.

Lancaster met with Exeter head coach Rob Baxter at Sandy Park earlier this week when possible England squad members were discussed.

Wing Matt Jess, hooker Chris Whitehead, lock James Hanks, plus flankers Tom Johnson and James Scaysbrook could all conceivably be on Lancaster's radar for a trip that also includes two midweek fixtures.

Exeter are nearing the end of only their second season as an Aviva Premiership club, but they can finish no lower than fifth and will secure a title play-off place if they beat Saracens on Saturday and Northampton come unstuck at home to Worcester.

"Personally, I'm not one for guys drifting away simply because it is the end of the season and that they are thinking about their holidays," Baxter said.

"I know we have a proud group of players here, some of whom could be thinking about summer tours. There is a lot of motivation in something like that, and I know we have a few guys in with a shout.

"It would be a measure of how well the team has played and how individuals have gone as well if we were to get people selected.

"We've made no bones about it. We are very ambitious and we want to have international players playing for us.

"Any step we can take where the players can drive themselves into international recognition can only be good for them as players and for us as a team."

Baxter was encouraged by what Lancaster had to say, adding: "We spoke about several players and he (Lancaster) admitted that our position and our form in the Premiership demands that some of our players need to be looked at.

"But they have also got to show form week in, week out and probably over a longer period than one season.

"Stuart has started to become more aware of our players this season, but I think he needs to be a bit more aware.

"Of course. I am bound to say that because I am a little bit biased, but had we beaten Northampton last month and we were pushing on for the top four, I think that would have demanded even more recognition.

"We know who our EQP (English qualified players) are, and they've played a big part in a team that is currently fifth in the Premiership, so they are doing something right.

"It's a 40-man squad going there, and I would like to think we will get a few people in it."

:: ::

Wasps legend Lawrence Dallaglio will be cycling for charity in northern Italy on Saturday afternoon when the Aviva Premiership fight for survival reaches its climax.

But he admits that "head and heart" will temporarily be in Buckinghamshire as either Wasps or their opponents Newcastle face relegation from the top flight.

Dallaglio, unsurprisingly, describes it as "the most important game" in his former club's history.

"We can all remember glory days at Twickenham, where we won nine finals between 1999 and 2008, but far more is riding on the game against Newcastle," Dallaglio told Wasps' official website.

"But despite all the gloom, some big positives have come out of this painful season. I am talking about the young players who have had to step up, and who have performed so superbly in the face of great adversity.

"I wouldn't wish a season like this on anybody, but I firmly believe that this crop of young talent will be all the better for their experiences of the past eight months.

"I firmly believe that the right result on Saturday can lay the foundations for a brighter future.

"Despite all the problems, Dai Young (rugby director) has done an outstanding job this season.

"Many a lesser man might have buckled under the strain, but he has just got on with things, without complaining, and he has already assembled an excellent squad for next season.

"With better luck on the injury front, I see no reason why we should not be fighting things out at the other end of the table."

Dallaglio and former England cricketer Andrew Flintoff are aiming to raise £2,012,000 for various charities through the Dallaglio Flintoff 2012 Cycle Slam, a journey that will have taken them through Greece, Italy, Switzerland and France by the time they reach the Olympic Stadium in London on May 18.