By Neale Harvey
Forgotten England hooker Luke Cowan-Dickie is ready to ramp-up the pressure on Dylan Hartley by roaring back into Test contention after a frustrating spell out injured.
Cowan-Dickie, 24, elected to undergo surgery on his left knee after last May’s Premiership final, thereby ruling himself out of England’s tour to Argentina.
However, the Cornishman, last capped against Australia in 2016, is on the comeback trail after appearing in last week’s Anglo-Welsh Cup win over Scarlets.
Cowan-Dickie told The Rugby Paper: “I had a micro-fracture in my knee and knew it needed maintenance, so it was better to go under the knife as soon as possible.
“I’d been hopeful of going to Argentina but I’m still pretty young and, in the general scheme of things, it made more sense to get it done. It’s been a long five-months, frustrating at times, but I’ve reached the point now where I’m back in the mix.
“Hopefully, I’ll get a really good run, get back playing well for Exeter and then be selected by my country. I’ve missed the first part of the season but I’m coming back stronger after the lay-off and will aim to put pressure on those other guys.”
Cowan-Dickie’s extended absence has enabled Bath’s Tom Dunn, 25, to join Hartley and Jamie George ahead of him in the England pecking order. He added: “I played with Dunny a little bit in age group rugby and he’s come through really well.
“I’m really pleased for him because he’s been showing top quality form in the Premiership. It just adds to the competition for England places, but I’m hoping to be back in there again soon and we can all fight it out together on the training field.”
Cowan-Dickie is returning to an Exeter side brimming with confidence, having built impressively on last season’s inaugural Premiership title win.
Back-to-back Anglo-Welsh Cup thrashings of Northampton and Scarlets have underlined the depth of their squad as Chiefs head back into league action.
“Recruitment-wise, Rob Baxter and his coaching staff have done really well,” Cowan-Dickie said.
“They take a lot of time looking at players before they sign them and we’ve built a side now where a few guys have bloomed through the academy, along with top quality players we’ve brought in like Nick White, to create huge squad strength.
“We’re all level-headed enough to know that there’ll be rest and rotation and you could probably swap the entire XV at Exeter now and the boys who start will be confident of doing as good a job as the others, regardless of who we play.
“As annoying as it can be watching sometimes, at the same time it’s great to know we’ve got that competition for places. It just makes you want to fight for positions even harder and it’s a great situation for us to be in at this stage.”
After seeing boyhood friend and Chiefs teammate Jack Nowell perform superbly for the Lions, Cowan-Dickie is desperate for his own slice of Test glory.
He added: “Jack had been on fire for Exeter and England all last season so to get that Lions call-up and play as well as he did in New Zealand was incredible. To see him make that first Lions appearance was hugely inspirational for the rest of us.”
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