Tom Johnson extends contract with Exeter Chiefs

England international Tom Johnson has extended his contract with Aviva Premiership
Rugby club Exeter Chiefs for three years while fellow forward Damian Welch has
extended his for a further two years.

This latest news is yet another welcome boost for head coach Rob Baxter, who
in recent weeks has also tied down the futures of Jack Yeandle, Ian Whitten
and also skipper Dean Mumm until 2016.

And for Baxter retaining the services of a number of his current group is paramount
he says for the future progression of the Chiefs. In the past the Chiefs leader
has made no secret of the emphasis he puts on retention of players, so this
latest news comes as a welcome boost ahead of this weekend’s trip to London
Wasps in the top flight.

“Obviously we’re delighted to have both TJ and Damian on board with us
for the foreseeable future,” said Baxter.

“Both are senior members of the squad and very important players in terms
of the first team.

“TJ has been playing here for a number of years now and we’re obviously
really pleased to tie him down for a further three years. We feel very confident
he is playing well and is at the top of his game right now. That said, he is
a guy that is still learning from his time in the Premiership, the Heineken
Cup and also his international career, so we regard him as an important player
for us.

“I think he’s a great example of what can happen if you get your head
down and work hard in everything you do. We had a good look at him when he was
at Coventry all those years ago and since we’ve brought him, he’s just continued
to thrive both in the Championship and the Premiership.

“As I said, he shows that it doesn’t matter where you start playing your
rugby, if you’re prepare to work hard ” both individually and within a
team ” which is what TJ has done, then some big things come for you.

“Our hope is that he can continue to show the form that will keep him
in the England squad. On form we feel he is playing as well as any back-row
forward in the Premiership, so we’re delighted to have him on board.”

Likewise, Baxter has been equally impressed by the former shown by Welch, who
joined the Chiefs at the start of the 2011/12 season from the Scarlets. After
a somewhat slow start to his Exeter career ” mainly due to the exceptional form
of Tom Hayes and James Hanks ”

Welch has since gone on to showcase his own talents, both in the Premiership
and Europe.

Baxter said: “He’s one of the guys who has thrived with regular game time.
We were always very aware of his athletic ability, that’s why we tracked him
for as long as we did because the bits and pieces were there to come through
as a very good Premiership performer.

“What we’re seeing with his gradual improvement now is that he’s really
knuckling down to his set-piece work, which has to come first. He is a galloping
runner and he can score tries that other second rows can’t, but first and foremost
he has to get that set-piece right.

“You’ve got to take real pride in the calling of line-outs and his work
as a tight-head scrummaging lock. That’s where we’re seeing his biggest improvement.

“Like a few of the other guys, we’re really pleased because we feel there’s
a fair bit more improvement going on as games go by. He’s not having an absolute
flying performance every week, but over time the quality of his performances
are improving.

“That’s the key when you do your recruitment and retention, seeing where
players are going not just where they are now. We’re very comfortable that there’s
a lot more to come from Damian and we’ll see more from him in the future.”

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