Chris Whitehead 'desperate' to make Exeter return
CHRIS Whitehead is desperate to get back playing for Exeter Chiefs – and has set his sights on Jack Yeandle's No. 2 jersey.
The hooker has not played since injuring his neck in the 30-23 win against Wasps at the start of December.
Having been forced to miss the last 13 games after having surgery, the 26-year-old is now in contention for a return to action when Leicester visit Sandy Park on Saturday (5pm).
Yeandle has started the last two matches as the Chiefs returned to winning ways in the Aviva Premiership, having taken over from Neil Clark.
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But Whitehead is keen to get back in the mix against the club where he started his career.
"I'm desperate for a fair bit of game time. I think any hooker is desperate to be playing week in, week out," he said. "A relatively young hooker like myself is always keen to be playing.
"I've not got points to prove but I'm desperate to get back in the mix with the players. I've had 14 weeks off, which isn't nice because you don't feel part of the team when you're in team rehab and the rest of them are out playing rugby.
"That's part and parcel of the game, certainly in my position. You're bound to incur the odd injury, it's how you bounce back from them.
"Given the opportunity to play you've got to prove your worth. Young Jack Yeandle's done an outstanding job, he's really stepped up. He probably came as third-choice hooker (last summer) but he's got every right to be playing now because he's bided his time and is doing very well.
"I'm desperate to get that shirt back off him. We've got four fantastic hookers here and that can only make for a good training week and a good finish to the season, fingers crossed."
Whitehead has been back in training for the last couple of weeks with the first team squad, having completed his rehabilitation with the club's medical and fitness teams.
And the former Coventry player believes his time on the sidelines has helped him come back in good nick.
"It was a real hindrance with the neck. There was quite a significant weakness on my left side because of it," he said.
"To have the surgery and have the opportunity to build the strength up on the left side has improved my game massively. I can tell just from being out tackling and in the tackle area, I feel a lot more comfortable and stronger and I'm not necessarily guarding it any more.
"I'm playing with lots of confidence now and desperate to get back there or thereabouts in the team. It would be great to be playing this weekend."
Saturday's game against Leicester is the first of five remaining matches for the Chiefs. And Whitehead said the players are determined to climb the table from eighth place.
"The boys who have been playing over the last few weeks have done a fantastic job and given us something to fight for," he said.
"The boys are desperate to be playing Heineken Cup rugby next year, and I'm a massive part of that. I really want to be playing in the top European fixtures so there's everything to play for in the last five games."