The announcement of the star signing, Stuart Hogg, by the Exeter Chiefs was a real statement of intent from the Devon-based club. A coup for the Premiership team, in their quest to maintain their recent high standing.
The two-time British and Irish Lion and Scotland Rugby senior player will bring star quality to the Chiefs, which they have been lacking at times – especially in Europe. They now have additional quality at the back of the field, to tighten-up their bulk in the pack.
At Last Word on Rugby, we will look at how he will fit in and how his arrival affects the Chiefs squad as a whole.
Stuart Hogg’s credentials
Baxter has revealed that Stuart Hogg had been on their radar for a number of years. Noting that two years ago, they were in negotiations, but Hogg decided to re-sign with Glasgow. However, Baxter noted they had kept an eye on him, and are extremely glad to ‘finally get their man’.
His name adds to the credentials of the Exeter Chiefs, in terms of marketability and in presence. Fans who will in the future consider the away trip to Devon, will find a star player an attractive incentive. That will to apply to stakeholders and in season pass numbers. If he can bring success with him, then the Chiefs can use his name in negotiating new sponsors and boosting the numbers at home matches next season.
— Exeter Chiefs (@ExeterChiefs) November 13, 2018
Baxter expects Hogg to be a star in the Exeter shirt and that he is a perfect fit for them. Exeter’s back three touch the ball the most out of any side Europe. This means that effectively Hogg can expect to have his hands on the ball more than ever next season.
Consider how influential Stuart Hogg is with Scotland, who pushed the All Blacks to the limit, and then his quality performances for the Glasgow-based Guinness PRO14 side, and Hogg’s inclusion is the Midas touch when it comes to attacking flair [for the Chiefs in 2019/20].
That is a frightening prospect for any side, something that Baxter was quick to bring up.
New Exeter teammates cannot wait
Having spoken to a number of the Chiefs squad members, the excitement for their new man is palpable. Don Armand, in particular, is very happy that the Chiefs have pulled off such a big signing. He said that “the fact that guys want to sign with us is a sign of where the Chiefs have come from”.
Former Lions teammate Alex Cuthbert also expects the Scotsman to do well at Sandy Park. Cuthbert spoke about how much he has enjoyed his time so far in the Premiership, and how he expects Hogg “to fit in well in this environment”. Armand backs this up further when he said that he ‘did not think Rob would sign anyone that wouldn’t fit into this environment’.
On the face of it, things all look rosy for fans at Sandy Park, with their new International signing. But will Hogg’s arrival cause a knock-on effect throughout the squad and force changes elsewhere?
Squad balance may change in 2019/20 season
With any incoming signing, there is will always be questions about how this affects the squad balance. On a reported £500,000 contract, Stuart Hogg has not come cheap. A signing of this magnitude would suggest that changes may have to be made in the squad (balance) to accommodate him.
The Chiefs also have a number of high-profile players out of contract at the end of the season. These include England hooker Luke Cowan-Dickie and veteran fullback Phil Dolman. This coupled with the departure of Michele Campagnaro, have led some to predict of a high number of ins-and-outs at Sandy Park before next season.
Director of Rugby, Rob Baxter, however has attempted to quash these rumours. He said although there may be some more recruitment “there will not be stacks”. He stated that he expects next season’s squad will ‘largely be based around what we’ve got’.
Baxter also hopes that club stalwart Phil Dolman will continue to play next season. He said that he does not see Hogg as a replacement. Baxter stated, “there’s still the option for Phil to stay here as well”. That is due to the fact that Hogg is likely to be away for periods of time with Scotland; and as a result, the Chiefs need some cover across the back three.
Even though a reduced salary pool (after signing Hogg) it will influence the squad balance, which players are in and those players on the outer. It will make for an interesting, and tantalizing near-future for the 2017 Premiership winners.
Stuart Hogg signing – concluding thoughts
Although Baxter has tried to put to bed rumours that his squad may change significantly this season, it is hard to see how the arrival of Hogg on such a wage level will not have an impact.
For many years, Exeter Chiefs are well known for managing their wage bill stringently so, perhaps they do have the financial-space to accommodate Hogg. The contract negotiations are a fundamental part of professional club rugby. Looking towards the future, aiming for championships; as much as the support and publicity that a major signing brings.
Observers will just have to wait and see if the arrival of Stuart Hogg has a knock-on effect off the field, as well as on it.
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