Rob Baxter says the best way for Exeter Chiefs’ latest crop of youngsters to play their way into the Premiership is to star in the Championship first.
Head coach Baxter last week handed deals to academy prospects Tom Hendrickson, Max Bodilly and Jack Oulton.
They will all be dual registered next season to play in the Championship while training with the Chiefs.
And Baxter has told the trio to focus on playing well in the second tier as he believes it is a great breeding ground for youngsters to learn their trade.
Hendrickson started Saturday’s 36-22 win against the Ospreys in the LV= Cup at centre, with Bodilly and Oulton going on from the bench in the second half.
Baxter thinks they demonstrated that they are already good enough to be considered part of the Chiefs’ wider squad for cup games.
“Their involvement at the weekend showed they can be valuable players now in our squad,” said Baxter.
“Tom Hendrickson was the player who had the most game time and I thought he did very well, he made very few mistakes, looked threatening in attack, solid defensively and that was in a pretty important LV= Cup game for us. The more game time he gets, the better he’ll be.
“The thing for these guys to remember, and I stressed it to them when they signed, was to make sure they understand the importance of playing very well for their dual registered clubs.
“If we can get them all playing regular Championship rugby, I’m a big believer that guys who can thrive in the Championship can make the step up in the Premiership.
“They’ve been told to focus on becoming the best Championship player they can be and we’ll give them opportunities at the right time with us. It’s up to them to progress from there.”
The trio, who are all students at Truro College, are the latest in a line of youngsters to progress through the academy.
Jack Nowell has already made it to the England Six Nations squad at the age of 20, while Dave Ewers, Sam Hill, Henry Slade and Dave Lewis played for England Saxons last weekend.
In addition, the likes of Ben Moon and Luke Cowan-Dickie are starting to make an impression at senior level, having played for England under-20s.
Baxter said the players they bring through the academy do not always have to win international recognition, they can become squad players at the club.
“There’s no doubt that we view our academy very seriously, we have produced some real quality players from it in the last few years,” he said.
“You’re not always going to get guys who fly through like Jack Nowell has into senior involvement with England, but not everyone has to.
“You want to get the best level of players you can, but a rugby squad is made up of 40 players, including the academy. Of the guys who come through, some will become starters, some might become very good squad players for us.
“What we’re starting to see is that even some of our young academy players, given the right environment and the right opportunities, can come through quite quickly as good squad players for us.
“They don’t all have to be England under-20s players. Even at 18 or 19 they can be good squad players for us and then thrive in the Premiership and come through that way.”
Hendrickson, Bodilly and Oulton will link up with the Chiefs on a full-time basis in the summer, and Baxter said they will have to quickly learn how to prepare as professionals.
“We’re very comfortable that we offer an environment for the guys to thrive in. The key is for them to take those opportunities,” he said.
“We talk a lot that the little bits matter. It’s no surprise that Jack Nowell, Sam Hill, Henry Slade and Luke Cowan-Dickie are starting to come through because they understood the importance of all the little bits.”