Rob Baxter: Sweeney will be a help for Henry, not a hindrance
ROB Baxter has assured promising fly-half Henry Slade that his development will not be hindered by the arrival of former Welsh international Ceri Sweeney.
The Welshman follows Cardiff Blue teammate Tom James to Sandy Park, and will offer competition to Slade for the No.10 jersey, currently held by the in-form Gareth Steenson.
At 33 years of age and with 35 Welsh caps to his name, Sweeney brings a wealth of experience to Exeter as Baxter looks to replace Worcester-bound Ignacio Mieres.
Sweeney's experience dwarfs that of Slade, who only turns 20 on Tuesday and has three LV= Cup appearances to his name this season.
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But Baxter feels it is Sweeney's experience that will actually help both Slade and Steenson develop into better players.
"It is not about nurturing Henry or not throwing him in at the deep end – for the rest of this season and next season, if he is the guy we should pick then we'll pick him," explained Baxter.
"It shows that we want to bring in good players – I am expecting Ceri to come in and fight tooth and nail, that is how it should be.
"But also there is a balance that an older guy can help out a younger guy like Henry. We want to be able to follow Henry's development and help him improve his standard on the pitch, as I am sure he will.
"The reality is that these young guys see it with young players like Jack Nowell doing so well that if they are good enough we will pick them.
"We have one of the best young fly-halves in the country in Henry Slade, and we have Gareth (Steenson) who I think is coming on all the time as a more and more hardened Premiership performer.
"Gareth is still a relatively inexperienced Premiership fly-half so that experience will also rub off well."
Turning his attentions Sweeney, Baxter added that it was not just the depth of his experience that made him an attractive signing, but also the quality.
Sweeney made his debut for Wales against England in the 2003 Six Nations, and went on to play in the World Cup in Australia that year.
The Glyncoch-born back was also selected for the 2007 Rugby World Cup, making his last appearance for his country that year.
And with 324 points in 109 appearances for the Blues and 570 points in 86 appearances previously with the Newport-Gwent Dragons – not to mention 88 points for Wales – Baxter knows he has signed a proven points scorer with a proven pedigree.
"We feel we now have a good combination at No. 10," said the Chiefs head coach. "Ceri comes in now as an ex-international and has played a lot of high-end rugby and is used to running a side.
"He is used to big competitions so I think it is a really good balance and exactly what we were looking for. We have done a lot of work in bringing him in and I think it brings a lot of quality in."
Regarding the rest of his squad, Baxter says he is happy with how things stand, although one more signing is expected soon to replace Connacht-bound Aly Muldowney.
"I am pretty comfortable with where we are as a squad at the moment," he said.
"We are still looking for a back five player in with Aly Muldowney moving on and Tommy Hayes nursing a little bit of a back issue at the moment.
"We do have a slot in the squad there for a back five forward and once that is completed I think that will be pretty much us done.
"We are looking at a few options and have a few feelers out here. We have found a guy that we like but we just have to dot a few i's and cross a few t's – we are not sure when that will be done though."