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Exeter thrive on defying the odds says Steenson

Exeter fly-half Gareth Steenson reckons Rob Baxter’s ability to outwit big-spending Premiership rivals in the transfer market is underpinning their title charge.

While West Country rivals Gloucester, Bath and Bristol have spent huge sums in a bid to chase down Saracens, Baxter’s knack of identifying uncut diamonds, or players surplus to requirements elsewhere, and turning them into top-class performers has paid dividends.

Long-serving Steenson, who has been awarded a testimonial next season, told The Rugby Paper: “Rob always seems able to recruit guys with something to prove and we’ve got a good mix of young fellas coming through the academy and older pros like myself and Thomas Waldrom.

“If you look at guys like Ollie Devoto, Olly Woodburn and James Short, they were either told by clubs that it wasn’t going to happen for them or they needed to move on, but they’ve found a home here. It’s like those experiences have got their backs up a bit.

“It’s always been like that with Exeter. When we were promoted in 2010 we were told we’d be relegated again; then we were told we couldn’t get into the top six or Europe but we did; and now we’re being told by some people that we can’t win the Premiership title.

“That sort of thing almost has a snowball effect and we’re now starting to put together a good strong squad that is reaping the rewards. A lot of hard work has gone in and the club has flourished, so it’s fantastic that under Rob we keep making steady progress.”

Dungannon-born Steenson epitomises Exeter’s cussedness, having joined the club from Cornish Pirates in 2008 and been a major factor in their subsequent success.

He said: “I’m one of those players who’s always had something to prove and it’s great to have been granted a testimonial. We’ll be bringing 35 members of the 2010 promotion side back together on August 12 for a game against the Classic Lions at Sandy Park.”

Steenson’s unrelenting consistency with the boot is one reason why Henry Slade has failed to nail down the No.10 jersey for Exeter or England, but the Irishmen is convinced this summer’s tour of Argentina offers his ambitious protégé a chance at Test level.

Steenson said: “Henry was unfortunate with his broken leg last year and he was in and out of the England camp during the Six Nations, but Argentina will be a good chance for him to shine and I hope Eddie Jones shows some real commitment to him.

“Henry can control a game beautifully at No.10 and adds a different dimension at 12 or 13 as well with his ability to go to the line and pick a pass, so Eddie needs to say, ‘There you go, you’re going to be playing’ and give him a run of games in one position.

“He just needs a bit of clarity and once he gets that it’ll transform his game. He’s a young guy who needs responsibility within the squad to bring out his best.”

NEALE HARVEY

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