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Phil Dollman revelling in Exeter's remarkable rise

Published 20/05/2016

Phil Dollman (left) has become a key part of the Exeter team since his move from Wales
Phil Dollman (left) has become a key part of the Exeter team since his move from Wales

Phil Dollman faced an uncertain rugby future when he felt "cast aside" in Wales seven years ago.

The Caerphilly-born back found himself surplus to requirements at Newport Gwent Dragons and had no immediate idea of where he might revive his professional rugby career.

On Saturday, though, Dollman will line up in Exeter's first Aviva Premiership play-off, 80 minutes away from a possible Twickenham showdown against Saracens or Leicester for the right to be called English champions.

The 31-year-old has clocked up more than 160 league and cup appearances for the Chiefs, and along with fly-half Gareth Steenson, is an only starting XV survivor against Wasps this weekend from May 26, 2010, when Exeter clinched Premiership promotion by blitzing Bristol.

Pretty much anyone you to talk to around Exeter's Sandy Park home regards Dollman as an unsung hero of the Chiefs' remarkable rise towards English rugby's summit.

While other players might command more frequent headlines - Chiefs' international stars like Jack Nowell, Henry Slade and Geoff Parling - Dollman continues to go about his work in such impressive fashion that Exeter will forever be grateful for diverting his career path towards Devon.

"I wouldn't have expected to do this well - sometimes, you have got to pinch yourself a little bit," Dollman told Press Association Sport.

"I was a bit down when I was leaving Wales and felt a bit cast aside, but I have found my feet here and it has been a brilliant experience.

"I had grown up playing at Caerphilly, Bedwas and then the Dragons, and you never imagine that one day you might move away when you are playing in Wales.

"We had talked contracts at the Dragons, but nothing came, and it got to a point where I needed to look for other clubs. Exeter were in the market for someone like me, and when the offer came in, I snapped it up.

"It was a bit on the hoof, a bit out of nowhere, but I was prepared to make the move. I knew I wanted to play rugby professionally and keep that going. I wanted to push as much as I could, but there wasn't anything in Wales for me."

At the end of his debut season in the Championship, Dollman helped Exeter achieve Premiership status with a 38-16 aggregate victory over Bristol, and barely four months later they announced their top-flight arrival in style, defeating opening Premiership opponents Gloucester.

"It was a feeling of jubilation when we got promoted," he added.

"That whole season was geared around trying to get into the Premiership and be at our best when it came to the play-offs.

"Traditionally, I think we have enjoyed being an underdog - in the Championship final and then moving into the Premiership. I think we relished people not expecting much from us. We have enjoyed proving people wrong.

"We have strengthened ourselves year on year. It has been a gradual improvement, and so much hard work has gone into it.

"That's the main thing about this club - the work ethic and people putting the graft in on the training pitch and behind the scenes to produce what we are producing at the moment on the pitch.

"When we came up from the Championship, we kept pretty much a Championship squad and trusted in that. A lot of those guys hadn't tasted Premiership rugby, and then gradually, people like (Australia Test lock) Dean Mumm and other internationals were introduced and really added to the culture that had been instilled in the squad."

Dollman is quick to acclaim head coach Rob Baxter, who has guided Exeter's ascent from Premiership newcomers to play-off status, including three seasons of elite European rugby and a first Champions Cup quarter-final appearance this term when they were beaten in injury time by Wasps.

"He is very thorough," Dollman said. "He does a lot of work and analysis on the game and is looking to improve us week on week.

"We've gone week to week for the last six or seven years, trying to be better and going through things with a fine-tooth comb and picking out where we can improve.

"He gives us simple kinds of targets and what he expects of us, and if you do that, then it's happy days and you will do well here.

"Wasps have got plenty of threats, like we have. We've got to get every aspect of our game up to scratch on Saturday. Against a team like Wasps, you don't have to get too much wrong to be on the losing end of it.

"We believe we have got the game to get a result, and we've got to trust in ourselves and implement the game plan."

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