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Heather Fell: Hail to the Chiefs

PUBLISHED: 09:00 17 January 2014

The big kick-off comes to Exeter's Sandy Park on 29 September, 2015

The big kick-off comes to Exeter's Sandy Park on 29 September, 2015

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Modern pentathlete and Olympic silver medallist HEATHER FELL shares her love of rugby’s sportsmanship and professionalism

I could not hold off much longer, I need to share my love of rugby. This is a sport that I can not pretend to have any experience of playing, unless I can count touch rugby for one term at school.

I should probably also confess that until recently I was not a massive fan of spectating either. This was nothing against rugby but more due to the fact that I prefer to do rather than watch when it comes to sport.

However as I have matured I have been drawn more into this sport for many reasons, the initial one maybe only the female reader will understand, but far more importantly I enjoy the game for its fine example of sportsmanship and professionalism.

I will try not to harp on about the wonderful part of the world we live in, I am pretty sure I would be preaching to the converted, yet every month with each new sport I realise just how much we have going for us in Devon.

Rugby really is no exception and a lot of that is due to the recent rise of the Exeter Chiefs into the premiership. I still find it hard to believe that since winning the Championship play offs as the underdogs four seasons ago the club have gone from strength to strength and proved many critics wrong as they continue to cement themselves among the long established top flight clubs.

A few years ago when the construction of Sandy Park, the new home of Exeter Chiefs, was being built I do remember thinking is this really necessary, will enough people really come to a home game? I was soon to be proven wrong and it seems that the wonderful facility has been widely recognised. There was the exciting announcement that Sandy Park will host some of the 2015 World Cup matches and more recently we heard that the LV cup final this season will be played there. It is no surprise then that the club has just scooped an award for rugby venue of the year, the view from the Grandstand out over Dartmoor should win that alone.

It could appear that Exeter Chiefs have the money that is now always a prerequisite to competing in the top level professional sport and that is the sole reason that they have managed to remain in the Premiership. As much as finances do play a big part in sport, at the end of the day it is about the talent and most importantly the team bond. As an athlete I experienced the sheer importance of a team around me, it was the strong local support that really made the difference, this is demonstrated clearly by the Devon club and their set up.

Exeter Chiefs have been led up through by coach Rob Baxter who demonstrates the importance of community and continuity. He has also ensured it continues through to the players with the investment in the youth and academy sectors already paying off. Last summer saw the England juniors winning their World Cup with a team consisting of five Chiefs players. I spoke to Henry Slade from that victorious team who talked to me about the impact of having a Premiership team local to his home:

“It gave me the opportunity to be part of the academy set up whilst still at school which enabled me to balance my studies in Plymouth whilst training in Exeter. This opportunity has certainly played a large part in my rugby career so far and for so many of my team mates too. As a result of coming up through the system with many of the other guys there is a really great bond that makes a difference when playing together in matches.”

There are also numerous opportunities for children to get involved in this sport, whether through their local school, club or other organisations. Rugby demonstrates so many qualities needed in everyday life, this has been identified locally by the Chiefs who now run a comprehensive community programme across all of Devon and Cornwall.

If though like me you are past your prime rugby playing days then fear not as an afternoon out at the rugby, as long as you are adequately wrapped up, provides a wonderful combination of top level sport with the perfect excuse for a social opportunity.

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