Sireli Naqelevuki is confident Exeter Chiefs will build on their impressive debut season in the Aviva Premiership and become an even stronger force within the 2011/12 campaign.
The 30-year-old Fijian was a key figure for the Devon club in the top flight last term, scoring five tries in 18 appearances following his move from South African Super Rugby franchise ‘The Stormers’ back in September.
Initially handed a starting role on the wing for his new club, the Chiefs coaching staff soon realised the attacking potential of the Suva-born back as they switched him into the Exeter midfield where he became a destructive threat both in attack and defence.
Now, Naqelevuki is hoping to pick up from where he left off and help Rob Baxter’s side get off to a flying start in the Aviva Premiership. He said: “I had a nice break and it was good to go back home. I didn’t do too much, I just chilled out; had some fun, did a bit of training and I got married as well! At the same time it’s good to be back in Exeter and seeing the boys working hard. You can see they’ve all been training well during the off season and now we’re all getting ready for the start of the season.”
Certainly having Naqelevuki on board for the start of the new season, which kicks-off with a trip to Leicester Tigers on September 2, is something the Chiefs will be delighted with. Last term the Fijian international missed the opening few weeks of the season and it was not until Exeter’s trip to Northampton Saints in early October that the club were at last able to unleash his talents.
“It’s good to be here at this stage,” said Naqelevuki. “I know it’s going to be a lot of hard work, but I am sure we will have some fun as well. It’s good to see the boys working hard – to have a good season you know you have to work hard in the off season and that is what we are doing. It’s looking good so far.
“Last season was enjoyable for all of us. I had some good times and it was nice to finish our first season in eighth place. It was a good test for all of us in the first year, but hopefully we can go one step up further this year and maybe try and qualify for the semi-finals. It is always good to push yourself and set targets like that.”
Exeter clearly showed during their maiden year in the Premiership that they could tackle the very best the division had to offer. Not only were they the only side to defeat eventual champions Saracens on their own turf, but they also claimed notable home scalps in Northampton Saints, Harlequins and London Wasps.
“There were lots of good memories, but winning against teams like Saracens, Northampton and Harlequins was especially good. I also thought my game came on a lot, I was adding new things all the time. English rugby was a lot different to what I was playing with the Stormers, it is a lot more physical at the breakdown, but it is good to have that kind of competition. It makes you go harder at every ruck.”
And whilst many familiar faces remain within the Chiefs ranks this season, Naqelevuki is encouraged by what Baxter has added to the playing ranks during the summer.
“It is good to have the new boys in town,” he added. “We all know we have to fight for our position, nobody has a guaranteed place, so it should drive us all on to do well in training and when we play.”
First up for Naqelevuki and the Chiefs, however, will be the forthcoming trip to face Irish side Connacht in their opening pre-season clash on Saturday, August 13.