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Exeter Chiefs revival starts with beating Saracens, says Tom Lawday

Late-developer Tom Lawday has urged Exeter to raise their intensity in order to get their Premiership title charge back on track.

A first league defeat at Harlequins a fortnight ago was followed by Champions Cup disappointment against Gloucester.

However, Saturday’s home clash with leaders Saracens offers the perfect chance for a riposte and No.8 Lawday – one of the finds of the season – told The Rugby Paper: “We’ve got to ramp-up our intensity and impose our game.

“We were disappointed to lose at Harlequins and Europe didn’t go to plan either, but we’ve got a big challenge over these next three weeks in the Premiership now. I’ve got no doubt we can put things right – starting with Saracens.”

At 25, Lawday is a late starter at Premiership level but has taken his chance brilliantly following an early season injury to England’s Sam Simmonds.

The former Sherborne schoolboy’s unusual route to the top saw him enjoy two gap years playing club rugby in New Zealand before completing a sports science degree at Exeter University and spending last season at Cornish Pirates.

Lawday explained: “I always said I’d go to university first, especially as I had no academy exposure or played any age grade rugby.

“I knew that Exeter Uni had links with the Chiefs so I got my head down there and that link proved pretty good. Exeter picked me up in my second year and I had a good season at Pirates before getting in the first team mix here.

“It’s all happened pretty fast. I was travelling reserve for the first few games and then managed to squeeze into a starting spot against Sale. Then Sam Simmonds got injured and that’s opened things up to have a decent crack at it.”

A powerful ball-carrier who took inspiration from working alongside former Chiefs No.8 Thomas Waldrom, Lawday’s early rugby included hard yakka in Wellington.

“I played for a team called Old Boys University, which is Conrad Smith’s club and is run by (former All Blacks No.9) Dave Loveridge,” he said.

“My rugby coach from Sherborne knew Dave and they were keen to have players over on a gap year, so it was a brilliant part of my rugby education that has stood me in good stead.

“I learnt pretty quickly not to run straight at certain people, especially as a Pom!”

Having established himself as a regular in Exeter’s matchday squad, Lawday’s goal now is to cement a place in the starting line-up.

He added: “I love getting the ball in my hands and testing defences and hopefully I can continue doing that. Ball-carrying’s my strength but I’m also working pretty hard on the footballing side – speed off the mark and getting into gaps.

“Defence is another work-on but I’ll just try to keep my head down now and keep improving every week. There’s still a lot of confidence that we can achieve good things this season and my aim now is to be a big part of that.”

NEALE HARVEY

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