Exeter playmaker Gareth Steenson is well aware the Chiefs will no longer be the surprise package of the Aviva Premiership this season, but he is confident he and his team-mates have learnt plenty from their debut outing in the competition.
The Chiefs introduced themselves to the top flight on week one of the season when they defeated Gloucester at Sandy Park. That was the first of 10 league victories for Rob Baxter’s side as they finished eighth in the final standings.
Irishman Steenson was instrumental in a number of those wins and finished the season as the club’s top points-scorer on 213 in all competitions. He did this, however, despite missing a chunk of the season following a knee ligament injury sustained in the home defeat by London Irish.
Steenson’s first experience of the Premiership, though, was one to savour and he insists a year down the line the Chiefs can continue to flourish.
The fly-half said: “We won’t be a surprise package, but I think it works both ways. Whereas we went into last season not knowing what to expect, although a few of the fellas had a bit of previous experience, by and large we learnt quite a bit from last season. This season we will have that years’ experience under our belts, so we’re only going to be better for that. Hopefully we can perform well and establish ourselves again.”
Although the knee injury, which sidelined him for two months, put a slightly dampener on Steenson’s maiden bow in the Premiership, the former Rotherham and Cornish Pirates back was “delighted” with the campaign not only personally, but also from a team perspective.
“If I look at it personally, I was delighted with how the season went,” said Steenson. “I had a really good start to the season but then the injury came along. I had to dig deep and try and get myself back into shape but thankfully I did that and had a good few weeks and finished the season very well.
“From a team perspective, to finish in eighth place in our first year was a pretty special season when you look back on it. We have been quite lucky in the fact that the last couple of seasons have been good. Now we look forward to the new campaign.”
Already Steenson is hard at work back at Sandy Park not only getting himself into shape for what is sure to be a testing pre-season programme, but also preparing for the battle for the No.10 jersey alongside Ignacio Mieres and summer signing Myles Dorrian.
He said: “Competition is what you want, you want guys pushing hard in every position. I’ve played against Myles many times when he was at Coventry and then Bedford and I always regarded him as one of the best 10s I played against in the Championship.
“Obviously Nacho (Mieres) came in and started to play really well towards the end of the year and he worked hard all year and deserved his chance. It’s great for the three of us, so now we’ve got to go away, work hard and try and get that jersey.”
For Steenson part of the process of showing head coach Baxter that he is ready for the 2011/12 season will be in the club’s three pre-season fixtures, which include a trip back to his homeland to face Connacht, a trip to former club Cornish Pirates, plus a home date with the Scarlets.
“They are really good tests for us and ones which will really set us up for the new season,” he added. “A trip to Galway will give us that sort of European feeling of going away, having to perform and spending a bit of time together. Having been there before I know it’s quite a hostile place and it will definitely test us, especially the way they are playing and the fact they are in the Heineken Cup.
“Then obviously we all what it is like to play down at the Pirates – that’s another big game, not just for us, but for them as well. They had a great season this year and they are pushing hard to get up where we are right now.
“And then we finish with the Scarlets who we know are a quality side because we’ve played them for a couple of seasons now. These three games are just what we need going into the new season.”