Chiefs head coach Rob Baxter says he looking forward to welcoming prop John Andress back into the Exeter ranks after two seasons away with Aviva Premiership rivals Harlequins.
The Irish prop, who has agreed a one-year deal with the Devon club, is Baxter’s seventh new addition as he looks to bolster his squad for next season’s assault on the top flight.
Welcoming the 27-year-old back into the Sandy Park stable, Baxter said: “I worked with him closely as forwards coach when he was here before. At that time he was probably the best scrummaging tight-head in the league. I have always said players who perform well in the Championship have the ability to perform well in the Premiership.
“Last season he played in some big games for Harlequins and he’s a guy I am comfortable working with and I think he can push on again. He’s more of a modern prop who does more than just the set-pieces, he gets around and makes tackles and likes to carry the ball.
“I think he’s a good signing for us and I think there is going to be a lot of competition in the squad. I like the look of the front five, I think it’s an area we’re going to have a lot of strength.”
Certainly Baxter will have no shortages of options to choose from in the front-row as Andress, plus fellow newcomer Craig Mitchell, will have to vye for a starting spot alongside current squad members Chris Budgen, Hoani Tui, Brett Sturgess and Ben Moon, all of whom have excelled for the Chiefs this season.
“I’m delighted with how Chris and Hoani played this year,” added Baxter. “The way Hoani played on Saturday against an England prop [Tim Payne] was fantastic, we pretty much dominated the scrums on our put in, so that shows Craig Mitchell and John Andress have got a big job on their hands to get in the 23 and that’s fantastic for us. We have now got six really good props and that’s a great position to be in going forward.”
With Welsh international Mitchell likely to be heading to New Zealand for the World Cup, Baxter explained the need to add another prop to the ranks was seen as crucial.
“Craig Mitchell looks like he’s going to play in the World Cup so I was keen to add another prop to make sure we’re strong in those first six-eight weeks when Craig could be away,” explained Baxter. “John is a guy our crowd know all about and I’m looking forward to having him back here and working with him. I know he’s looking forward to coming back and playing for Exeter again and he adds real competition for us.
“We have got various options there. Chris Budgen has played loose-head for us and Hoani Tui has played a lot at loose-head as well, he played European Cup games at loose-head when he was in Italy.”
Having made 44 appearances during his previous two-year stay with the Chiefs, Andress says the chance to return to Exeter was something he is clearly relishing.
“I’m really looking forward to coming back to Exeter,” said Andress, who first joined the Chiefs from Ulster. “I obviously had two really good years down there and I loved every minute of it. The people at the club, the supporters, the whole community was something I really took to, so it was a pretty easy decision to make once I knew Rob was interested in bringing me back.”
A proven performer during his first stay with the club, it was no surprise that his on-field displays drew the attentions of clubs in the Premiership, most notably Harlequins.
“When I moved on it was purely because it was the chance to go and play in the Premiership,” he said. “But since I left the Chiefs have got there themselves and you only have to look at this season to see how well they have done. As I said, I really enjoyed my time at Exeter and coming back to quite a few familiar faces will certainly help me settle back in.
“Exeter, I know, are a great club and one which is moving in the right direction. Even before the start of this season I said to a few people that they would be alright in the Premiership because not only do I rate Rob as a coach, but they’ve got some great players, some great coaches and the facilities down there are great.
“For me, my initial aim is simply to report in for pre-season, train hard, work hard and take it from there. I know Paddy [Anson] and the conditioning staff will work us hard over the summer, so I just want to get my head down and get myself in a good position come the start of the season.”