Powerhouse hooker Luke Cowan-Dickie endured an ‘annoying’ autumn watching from the sidelines as England got their World Cup bid back on track. Now he aims to nail down a new contract at Exeter and show national boss Eddie Jones why he must be part of his Six Nations plans and beyond.
Cowan-Dickie has been linked with Harlequins, Leicester and Worcester but is close to agreeing a new deal to remain at Sandy Park, which should boost his international chances.
Cornishman Cowan-Dickie, 25, told The Rugby Paper: “Contract talks are going well. I’ve spoken to the club and they are on track – my ideal choice is to stay at the Chiefs.
“They’ve been my team from day one and it’s always going to be hard to leave a club you’ve grown up with. I’ve left most of it to my agent but things are looking pretty good.”
A summer tourist with England in South Africa last June, Cowan-Dickie’s chances of adding to his seven caps during the Autumn series were stymied by a torn hamstring.
However, he returned against Saracens last week, when an outstanding display put opposite number Jamie George in the shade and helped Chiefs to an impressive 31-13 win.
Lions hero George and Red Rose skipper Dylan Hartley are the men in possession of England’s No.2 jersey but Cowan-Dickie is among a squadron of challengers aiming to usurp the pair, with Bath’s Tom Dunn and Worcester’s Jack Singleton also in the frame.
Cowan-Dickie said: “I’ve had a few annoying injuries which have come at the wrong time, but you can always come back stronger and fitter and starting against Sarries last week was a great way to get back into rugby. I’m just glad things went so well.
“I don’t look at the head-to-heads against guys like Jamie too much, it was my first game for eight or nine weeks and I just wanted to do my basics really well. I hit all my lineouts and around the park I felt pretty good as well.
“Jack Yeandle’s put in a fair few decent performances for us while I’ve been out so my main aim at the moment is to get my Exeter position back. If I can do that and get some good games under my belt now, England might happen again from there.
“Before my injury I felt I was in pretty good form so it was frustrating to be on the sidelines when it came around to selection in November. All I can do now is get my foot down and keep the pressure up because quite a few of us are competing for spots.”
Recent defeats at Harlequins and in the Champions Cup at home to Gloucester raised questions over Exeter’s silverware-winning credentials this season. However, resounding victories in the return match at Gloucester and then in the league over fellow title-challengers Saracens laid those doubts to rest.
Cowan-Dickie believes a degree of complacency may have crept in, explaining: “We needed to put on a big show for ourselves and the fans last week.
“When you lose a game it’s not the end of the world, but when you lose and don’t put in your normal performance, that’s when it hurts most – and in the Champions Cup at home to Gloucester we didn’t put in what we call a proper Chiefs performance.
“It was the unseen work, what we call the ‘no-talent’ battles that were missing. Whether it’s your speed to the breakdown, speed of the kick-chase or just working hard enough, we weren’t winning those individual battles that make us play well.
“Coming from where we were to where we are now, having been the underdogs for so many years, every victory that we had back then was based on the no-talent stuff. We’ve brought ourselves up from there and it applies just as much today.
“We maybe didn’t work as hard, thinking we could win easily and you can get lulled into that after a few games when things are going well. But we got things back on track against Saracens and when we win those battles, things tend to be better.”
Cowan-Dickie is now desperate to get back on to the Test stage, adding: “I enjoyed the South Africa tour and Eddie Jones has given me a few areas he’d like me to work on, with set-piece and scrummaging the main things for me now.
“I’m constantly working on all aspects there, and beyond that I’m always looking for top-ups – anywhere I can gain an extra one-percent. International rugby is that step above so whatever I can do, whether it’s extra work on the bike or conditioning, I’ll do it. It’s a big World Cup year – I want to be part of it.”