12 July 2020

Exeter Chiefs coaches hail one club mentality ahead of maiden Premier 15s season, saying: ‘We are one club, one family’

Exeter Chiefs head coach Susie Appleby and assistant Amy Garnett have hailed the bond between their men’s and women’s teams ahead of their maiden season in the Premier 15s.

The southern side’s women’s team was founded in 2019 and accepted into the women’s top flight in April and Garnett says the ‘one club’ mentality is why she took the job.

“I know for a fact Susie and I probably wouldn’t have taken the job if that wasn’t there," she said.

"When I was in my interview I asked the questions: Why do you want a women's team? What's your expectations? What are you intentions? Is it just a tick box exercise? And it wasn’t.

"Rob Baxter [Chiefs Director of Rugby and board member] was in on the interview and he said: ‘No we have wanted a women’s team for a long time and the league has a three year tenure coming up and this is our opportunity to get in'. 

“I think we see ourselves as the Chiefs. Not the men’s or women’s. We are one club, one family and we work well together.”

Garnett and Appleby with Rob Baxter and Tony Rowe (Twitter: Exeter Chiefs)

And Appleby echoes Garnett, saying the club is a ‘fabulous place’.

"The club have built an amazing culture, so whether you are a staff member, an academy player or a first team player everyone is treated as equal.

“Everywhere around the club you walk in and it feels amazing. It is very much a one club mentality and everyone is going to have the same aspirations to make it the best place it can be. So yeah it's a fabulous place.”

The two coaches explained how the women’s team will get the exact same opportunities as the men.

There will be no separate social media channels, they are planning for both teams to play their matches at Chiefs’ home Sandy Park and kit launches will be a shared occasion.

The set up at Exeter which promotes equality is one that managed to attract Appleby away from fellow Premier 15s club Gloucester-Hartpury. She had been head coach there for five years but announced her departure in September 2019.

“We were doing a really good job at Gloucester, it was a really good programme, Exeter Chiefs just offered something a little bit different,” she added.

"Their [Chiefs] ambition is endless, it's through the roof. For me to go and work in a club with Exeter's ambition not just for the men, we know what the men can achieve, Exeter are prepared to invest in the women in the exact same way. 

“The support behind the club is amazing, Rob Baxter is unbelievable, Tony Rowe [Chief Executive and chairman of Chiefs] is fantastic so everything that happens down there oozed positivity.”

A few months after Appleby joined Chiefs they began to build their case for the Rugby Football Union’s re-tendering process. 

Chiefs, Sale Sharks, Richmond, Firwood Waterloo, Worcester Warriors and Darlington Mowden Park Sharks were all part of a process bidding to be included in the next three years of the league.

The outcome saw Chiefs and Sale Sharks replace Firwood Waterloo and Richmond.

And Appleby is keen to hit the ground running as she aims for her side to finish in the top half of the table.

"We are ambitious, we also have to be realistic. We are effectively joining the league in season four so most of the other clubs, apart from Sale Sharks, have got three years on us. However, Tony Rowe is not going to accept mediocrity, he's already said that to me a lot of times.

"The club is going to invest and expect results. We are looking for overseas players but also looking to grow our own local talent for younger players so it’s going to be a mix. 

“It’s an incredibly competitive league, but all that said I'm confident we can hit the top half of the league in the first season.”

Appleby was Gloucester-Hartpury's head coach for five years before moving to Exeter (Twitter: Gloucester-Hartpury)

And while she speaks positively about the club’s recruitment plans, fans are still awaiting news of signings.

Appleby has said this is because none have yet officially signed on the dotted line.

"Right now we’ve got to a position where I have sent out ten contracts, those are our first ten. Hopefully others will follow suit, it's just taken a bit of going back and forth with the RFU.

“We aren’t prepared to announce those players until contracts are signed as it's not fair on those players or clubs they are moving from. So within the next few weeks you'll see us announce some signings.”

The league has not yet got an official restart date due to the coronavirus pandemic. But when it does get back underway both Appleby and Garnett are excited about competing in what they both describe as the ‘best league in the world’.

“Every game is a battle and players from across the globe have flocked here to play in it,” Garnett said.

And Appleby added that it was the support that has been given to players that mae it the best league.

“The minimum operating standards are really stringent in what a club needs to provide their players with and there’s an obligation to provide a full programme. Physios, strength and conditioning and medical,” she said.

"What that provides for the players is an elite environment and then performances on the pitch are mirroring that. So suddenly you’ve got this elite competition that has never been seen before in England.

"What will make it better is, we've just lost Tyrells who were the main sponsor and now we need a big sponsor to take it and bring it where football has gone. Then maybe more players will be able to be full time, that’s the ambition really.

“Then I don’t think anything will be able to touch it.”

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