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Chris Bentley: This could be our best chance to get the monkey off our back

By Exeter Express and Echo  |  Posted: December 27, 2012

  • Chris Bentley

  • Exeter Chiefs

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IT DIDN'T quite work out at Gloucester on Saturday but, as Rob pointed out, had Freddie Burns missed his last kick and we had won, the Chiefs couldn't have tried harder.

Indeed, just last season we were the lucky recipient of a final-play try to win the game. At the top end of the game the margins are fine and, as sobriety returned, a losing bonus at Kingsholm is no mean feat.

There were a few grumbles about the decisions of the ref on the day but the Premiership is a relentless beast and we've got a sell-out Sandy Park crowd primed to ensure we're right back on the horse when our bogey team Bath roll into town.

I know that the playing staff would be keen to get that monkey off their back and I think we've got our best opportunity yet to finally put one over the only Premiership team we are yet to vanquish.

On the back of seven wins from our previous eight games, the Chiefs are riding high and, with the team still unbeaten at home in the league, something is going to give on Saturday. I for one can't wait.

As is becoming a common theme in the column, I'm congratulating a few more members of the team for signing on for another term at the club. This time it's three of the biggest characters of the current crop and some who'll be making their names in the not-too-distant future.

Brett Sturgess is seen to most as a gladiator who puts his body on the line for the team week in, week out. However, beneath the imposing front is a true team man who has become a huge part of the Chiefs family. From appearing as never being able to get a word out in a team meeting, to leading the karaoke in the bus home and providing some of the most memorable clothing combinations this side of London, Sturge has done it all and it's great news he's staying.

Steeno hasn't had as smooth a run as Sturge. Having been an integral part of the team that won promotion to the Premiership, he played second fiddle in the 'battle of the 10s' for a while. However, showing the true characteristics of a Chiefs man, he got his head down, worked hard and when the opportunity arose, forced his way back into the number 10 jersey. With wife Karen expecting their first child this spring, I'm pleased the music man is hanging about for a few more years!

The third member of the group to pledge their immediate future to the club is Mr Dependable himself, Luke Arscott. Being a Devon boy, it's great to see he's spurned the interest of a few European super clubs in order to help the Chiefs reach that status themselves. Having changed a couple of pegs down from Luke during my last two years as a Chief, I can testify that he is as good a lad to have off the pitch as he is on it and, once again, well done Megalukatron!

Finally, fresh from the production line of the Exeter Chiefs England Rugby Academy, we're welcoming Henry Slade, Jack Nowell and Sam Hill to more rugby at Sandy Park. As three members of the current England under-20s squad, all three are tipped for big things and it's great news they'll be doing it for their own club!

One of the things that is so special about the Chiefs is that even though the team is at the cutting edge of professionalism, we still maintain the true virtues of a rugby club.

Never was this more evident when last week when the guys set up a Santa's grotto in one of the empty corporate boxes on the top floor or on the visit to the Bramble Unit at the RD&E.

At the grotto, with Sturge dressed as Father Christmas, Phil Dollman and Kev Barrett as his little helpers and the room decorated in a most festive style, the players' children were treated to their very own special audience.

Meanwhile, a group of guys headed up to the RD&E to deliver presents that the players had picked for the youngsters unfortunate enough to be spending Christmas in hospital.

Too often we hear stories of sportsmen abusing their position and taking for granted the fortuitous profession they are in, yet even with the huge amount of success the Chiefs have enjoyed it pleases me to see that the boys are still grounded and happy to give their time when there is nothing to be gained by them other than the knowledge they're helping out.

And so it came to pass, my first Christmas on the other side of the fence! For the last 12 seasons I've been watching my food intake, limiting the alcohol and living the virtuous life of the professional rugby player.

Being from very big stock – all of my male relatives are bigger than me – Christmas has traditionally been one of the more difficult times of the year as I've said no when every instinct was screaming yes!

Chocolate truffles, a great big bird and plentiful pigs in blankets have all been declined around the dinner table as my relations have looked on aghast.

I wouldn't have had it any other way as being a rugby player is the best job in the world. However, this term I've enjoyed myself in the traditional sense and set a new world record of eating 500g of a famous Swiss truffle before breakfast!

Not only have I been a complete glutton but I've enjoyed all the fun of the Christmas staff party and indeed I thought it wise to take this opportunity to tip the hat to some of the most important members of the Sandy Park team who rarely get credit but without whom the ship would fail to set sail.

So, Nikki in the dragon's den for running the best accounts department in the west, Rusty and Perc for all your tireless work dealing with the administration of a Premiership rugby team, Tracey for making sure everyone gets paid on time, Lianne for being the hardest-working member of the crew, Chuffy as the head of contracts, Chuff exec and all round office hero – thanks for all your help and guidance during my first six months since joining the team.

Until the next time, stay safe, enjoy your rugby and have a great New Year.

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