By Neale Harvey
Frustrated flanker Matt Kvesic admits his “ship has sailed” as far as any England hopes are concerned as he trains his sights on bouncing back from a disappointing first season at Exeter.
Kvesic, once viewed as England’s answer to the problematic No.7 position, has never quite managed to fulfil the lofty potential that saw him capped twice on the successful 2013 tour of Argentina.
One more appearance followed – against Wales in 2016 – but a 100 per cent winning record in a Red Rose jersey has counted for little, with the earnest openside being constantly overlooked.
“For me, that ship has sailed,” Kvesic told The Rugby Paper, as he reflects on an opening campaign at Sandy Park that gleaned just four Premiership starts after signing from Gloucester.
“I’ve not been in the frame for so long now. Even when I have been playing what I’ve considered to be some of my best rugby, I’ve still never had much of a look in. With the selections Eddie Jones is making and young guys like Tom Curry coming more into the picture, I can’t see myself getting that much of a chance now. I don’t know if it’s gone for good for me but it certainly feels that way.
“I’m only 26 so I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t frustrating at times, but I have to accept that’s the way it is and just try to nail a spot at Exeter, win medals and help take the club to more championships.”
Nailing a spot at Exeter was no easy feat last season for Kvesic, who arrived from Kingsholm with his eyes wide open but still found himself caught in a log-jam of quality back rows which included Don Armand, Julian Salvi and Sam Simmonds.
Not only that, Rob Baxter’s Exeter side were Premiership champions.
Kvesic said: “It was a mixed campaign for me and if I look back at the playing side it’s a bit disappointing. I’d have liked to have played more rugby in the Premiership and strung a few games together, rather than just one or two games here and there.
“But I’d come from a Gloucester team that was struggling a bit into a team that had won the league, so it was always going to be a tough ask. The old saying is, ‘if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it’ so I could see where the coaches were coming from.
“Back row is normally the most competitive position in any club and when you’ve got nine or ten quality players to squeeze into three positions, as Exeter had, it’s even harder.
“Rob Baxter’s been really positive with everything, though, and he said some of the times I wasn’t picked weren’t necessarily a reflection on how I was playing, it was just down to the balance of back row he wanted to choose at the time for those particular matches.
“I didn’t necessarily agree with it but he was honest and up front, which you respect.”
With Salvi now retired, having joined the backroom staff, and Thomas Waldrom and Kai Horstmann also moving on, Kvesic added: “While it was a disappointing year for me personally, I’m not dwelling on that now and hopefully things will be a bit different.
“Julian’s fitted into the defence coach and development role really well and it’s good for me to be able to take advice off him.
“We’ve still got a lot of guys who can play in the No.7 position like Don Armand and Sam Simmonds, while Tom Lawday’s coming through who’s been at the Pirates and looks good as well, but I’m looking at this as a pretty big season for me.”
Having shed some weight to feel in top trim, Kvesic is ready to step up for what could potentially be a career-defining campaign, given Exeter are hell-bent on reclaiming their Premiership crown after losing to Saracens while making a bigger Champions Cup dent.
“We’ve put last season to bed now and Rob Baxter is pretty level-headed about these things,” Kvesic said.
“He said a loss isn’t the end of the world and a win doesn’t make us world-beaters either – words that stick out for me – and while nobody here is happy to lose finals, we know we’re a good enough team to get back in there competing again this season.
“Personally, I’m feeling good. I was a little heavier than I like last year so I’ve dropped a kilo or two to 105kgs (16st 5lbs) to feel a bit lighter on my feet.
“It doesn’t make a big difference in terms of ball-carrying, tackling and breakdown work, but I’m in good shape to be fair and ready to make an impact.”
Kvesic added: “It’s always tough in your first year at a new club because you don’t want to say too much and I’ve never been a big talker who riles a team up or gives the inspirational speeches, but I want to start leading by example and make a difference.
“We want to do well again in the Premiership and there’s no reason why we can’t get out of our group in Europe as well. We pushed Leinster close in both games against them last season and they went on to win it convincingly, so we know we have that capability.”
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