Exeter Chiefs have been handed a double boost ahead of Saturday’s Aviva Premiership trip to Gloucester with the news that Gareth Steenson and Brett Sturgess (above) have both agreed new deals with the club.
Fly-half Steenson and prop Sturgess have put pen to paper on contracts which will keep them at Sandy Park for a further two years.
Leading figures in last season’s promotion-winning squad out of the Championship, the talented duo have followed the lead of team-mates Haydn Thomas and Tom Johnson in committing their futures to the Devon outfit.
Dungannon-born Steenson is the second highest points-scorer in the club’s history having joined the Chiefs in 2008 from Westcountry rivals Cornish Pirates, whilst former Northampton Saints and Connacht forward Sturgess has been an ever present in the Premiership this term.
Not surprisingly both men are over the moon to have secured their immediate futures with the Chiefs.
Steenson (above) said: “Obviously I’m absolutely delighted to have sorted myself out for the foreseeable future at a club I know is not only ambitious, but is also looking to improve all the time. Thankfully we’ve managed to sort out the contract quickly and now I can just focus on my rugby for the rest of the season.
“I’ve always said I love it here at Exeter, so to have another two years secured is absolutely great. Obviously it’s been a good start for us in the Premiership, but we now have to finish it off with a big second half to the season.”
Although sidelined for three months of the current campaign through injury, Steenson has already shown in the early stages of the season that he is more than capable of producing the goods in the top flight.
The hero of last season’s Championship Play-Off success over Bristol, the talented back admits the elevation of the club into the Premiership has been beneficial not only for himself, but also many of his team-mates who were here last term.
“A lot of us have been at the club for a few years so it was great when we achieved that aim of getting into the Premiership,” added Steenson. “As a group of players we are all close-knit and enjoy working hard for each other, so it’s a tremendous place to be at right now. Hopefully, as I said, we can build on what we have achieved and move forward over the next few seasons.”
Like Steenson, Sturgess was more than happy to prolong his stay in Devon. He added: “I’m now into my fourth season at the club and I really enjoy it down here. I’m settled in well with my wife and our little son, so to have this new deal gives me not only a bit of security, but means I can also concentrate fully on my rugby.
“If I’m honest there was too much of a decision to make when the club offered me the deal, but I just wanted to sort out certain bits and bobs. Once we agreed those things, it was all fairly simple and now I just want to focus on playing and helping to take the club forward.
“Having been here for a few years I know how ambitious the club are. We achieved one aim with getting into the Premiership last season, but now we want to push on further and I want to be part of that.”
The decision of both players to commit to the Chiefs has been welcomed by head coach Rob Baxter, who admits he is close to securing a number of other squad members to new long-term deals.
Baxter said: “I think these signings, plus all the others that we are currently in negotiations with, show that as a club we are all about moving forward. We haven’t had to wait too long for decisions from the guys we have been in conversations with. A lot of them are keen to commit their futures to us, so that is excellent news.
“Obviously both Brett and Steeno played big parts in our promotion last season and it’s great to keep them on board for the next two years. I still think they are two players who have still got potential to improve and move on from where they are – which is obviously very important to us – and they are also very good members of the squad.
“We feel they are the right kind of men to help move us forward and to give us some stability over the coming seasons. As I’ve said before, we want to develop and keep the same culture and beliefs that have served us well in the past, so it’s important we keep guys within the squad who know all about that.”
“It’s also good that we have signed them up now. We know we have a very tough second half to the season and whilst it’s nice for people to say a lot of complimentary things about us, the truth of it is we still have a lot of league points we need to go out and try and collect and it’s nice to have focused players. By getting guys signed up like this, it will allow us to focus firmly on what we do which is playing games of rugby.”
The added benefit of signing players up early is also that Baxter will not be in the same position as last season when his recruitment drive was delayed by the outcome of the play-offs.
“I already feel we are a bit ahead of the game this year,” added the coach. “We haven’t got masses of recruitment to do. I feel nice and comfortable with where we are in terms of our retention of players, so once that is all sorted I think recruitment then becomes relatively easy.
“What is so nice about this season is that for a lot of the guys this is their first experience of the Premiership, but I still think they will get better in time. The key is we still need to keep players who we think can push on and improve because as a team and a group of players that is the place we need to go. We are a long way from a finished Premiership team, I think Saturday showed that, but we certainly have to push forward and see where that takes us.”
See highlights of the Chiefs beating Gloucester in the opening game of this season below: