EXETER Chiefs director of rugby Rob Baxter hopes that Wilhelm van der Sluys’ stay at Sandy Park will be longer than the initial one-year contract they have given him. The 25-year-old South African has effectively joined the Chiefs as injury cover for the back-five of the scrum, with back rower Dave Ewers facing a lengthy time out with a knee injury.
But he arrives in England from having played Super Rugby for the Kings during the summer, and Baxter believes he has the qualities to be a success in Devon.
‘He is only initially here on a one-year contract, but I am very hopeful it will become a lot more than just an injury-cover type situation, and we can see him potentially being with us for a longer time, but that’s going to be a lot down to the hard work he is prepared to put in,’ said Baxter.
‘Dave has got a relatively long-term injury, so we had a good look at the strength of our back five across the scrum. ‘Geoff Parling and Damian Welch both left at the end of last season, and we have got Jonny Hill and Ollie Atkins, and we are expecting Sam Skinner to step up to first-team level, but when you look at them as a group, we were a little concerned that we might start asking a bit of Don Armand and Dave Dennis to also feature in the second row as well as the back row. ‘It’s kind of important for us in the way we play, and how attritional games can be, that we had good strength across the back five of the scrum.
‘There was the opportunity to bring Wilhelm in, we started watching him playing for the Kings in Super Rugby, where he has been playing regularly, and he showed a lot of good qualities. A lot of the things we like to look for in players when we recruit them, we have seen a lot of those things when looking at his game.
‘We were not been able to meet with him before he signed, other than a chat on Skype, to ask him a few questions, but we have obviously done other bits of research on him.
‘Don Armand knows him very well as well, which helps, and that is a really good judge of his character, and we are obviously delighted he is here with us now. ‘He was playing Super Rugby a couple of weeks ago, and hopefully we can get him nice and freshened up and get him ready to start in the pre-season games.’ Baxter said there were plenty of qualities in the lock’s game that would make him a good fit for Chiefs.
‘He has got a very high work ethic, he gets around the field really well, he can stand as first receiver, and create a bit of width with his passing game as well, and he runs a line-out, so a lot of the things that we need to tick boxes very quickly with for a guy who we bring in, in some ways as injury cover,’ he said.
‘We know we can get him up and running pretty quickly. He is pretty athletic, and rangy, he has got a good turn of pace, and he wants to work hard and he wants to improve and work at his game.’ Van der Sluys is a former team-mate of Exeter forward Armand, and Baxter said: ‘Don says he is a really good character and really buys into the culture of the team and is prepared to work very hard. ‘We can see some good developments we can make in his game quite quickly, but we can also see some physical developments in him as well.
When Don came to us he was quite a big, athletic guy, and you now look at him and he is a massive, athletic guy! ‘Those inputs can happen quite quickly when you get out of a Super Rugby season, which involves a lot of travelling and it is relatively difficult to get a proper, detailed and consistent conditioning programme into yourself as well, and we feel we can deliver that with Wilhelm.
‘We also feel there are lots of little add-ons we can make to his game that will help him become a better player, and hopefully become important to us during the course of the season.’