LUKE Cowan-Dickie believes Exeter Chiefs will ‘thrive’ on the challenge of trying to defend their Aviva Premiership crown this season.
Having claimed their maiden English title back in May, defeating rivals Wasps in extra time at Twickenham, Rob Baxter’s side are gearing up nicely for their new 2017-18 campaign, which kicks-off on Friday, September 1 with a trip to Gloucester.
And with less than a month to go before that seasonal opener, the England hooker insists the mood is buoyant at Sandy Park as the Chiefs ready themselves for another big season ahead.
‘We can’t wait for the new season,’ declared the Cornishman. ‘Obviously it’s pre-season at the moment, but we’re getting ever closer to the start and all the boys are really looking forward to getting things started.’
The Chiefs will kick-off their build-up to the new season by welcoming both the Cornish Pirates and the Dragons to Sandy Park on Saturday, August 19 for a special double header, after which they will then take to the road to tackle Cardiff Blues on Friday, August 25, a week before the new Premiership season starts in earnest.
Cowan-Dickie acknowledges expectation levels will understandably be high for the Chiefs, both inwardly and from those on the outside, but he’s confident he and his team-mates can pick up from where they left off in May.
‘All the time we’ve been in the Premiership we’ve always looked to target those big two or three sides, who are there every year challenging at the top,’ he added. ‘Now, we’re going to be one of the teams that others want to beat.
‘As a club we’ve already talked about that a lot during pre-season, but it’s also something I think we can thrive off. We won the Premiership last season, so it’s only right that teams want to challenge us. It’s going to be a challenge, but you have to expect that at this level. As a group though, it’s one that all of us are looking forward to.’
Having played a key role in helping the Devon club to secure the title last term, Cowan-Dickie was then forced to sit out England’s summer tour to Argentina through a knee injury where five of his club-mates helped Eddie Jones’ side to record a 2-0 victory over the Pumas.
Although disappointed to miss out on the action, the all-action forward – who this week reported into England’s summer training camp alongside Jack Nowell, Jack Maunder, Henry Slade and Harry Williams – insists the chance to get his knee fixed will ultimately serve him well in the long term.
‘Obviously I was gutted to miss out, but at the same time it was great to see so many of the boys get that international recognition,’ he continued. ‘It was a massive experience for all of them – and it was great to see “Nowellsy” and “Franny” go with the Lions as well.’
International matters, however, will be put firmly to one side for Cowan-Dickie and co, who will be looking to stamp their authority on things in the colours of Exeter during the opening weeks of the new season.
‘What we did last year was class, but it’s gone now,’ said Cowan-Dickie. ‘We have to go again and hopefully start a bit better this time! We can’t go into the season thinking things will just happen because as good as last year was, we need to put it behind us and fight for this year.
‘Playing in the Premiership and playing in Europe, it’s tough and you can’t afford to be off your game. We learnt lessons last season what can happen when you’re not on your game, so it’s important all of us hit the new season firing on all cylinders.’