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Gareth Steenson set for coaching switch as Ian Whitten secures new deal with cost-cutting Chiefs

 

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New role: Gareth Steenson will join the Exeter coaching staff

New role: Gareth Steenson will join the Exeter coaching staff

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Ian Whitten

Ian Whitten

Getty Images

New role: Gareth Steenson will join the Exeter coaching staff

Former Ulster centre Ian Whitten has signed a new contract with Gallagher Premiership leaders Exeter Chiefs, while Northern Irish fly-half Gareth Steenson looks set to take up his first coaching role with the club.

Steenson (36), the Devon side's all-time leading scorer, was not included among a list of 30 new contract extensions yesterday, however it is expected he will sign a short-term deal that will see him finish out the current Premiership season, which will resume in August after being suspended due to the coronavirus.

After that, the Dungannon native is believed to be retiring from playing and moving into a role as specialist kicking coach on director of rugby Rob Baxter's backroom staff.

A former Ireland underage international, Steenson has been a favourite at Sandy Park since joining the Chiefs in 2008, helping them gain promotion to the Premiership for the first time in 2010 and then starting in the 2017 Premiership final as Baxter's side won their maiden top flight trophy.

Meanwhile, Whitten's stay with the Chiefs will continue for another few seasons after he agreed to extend his time with the English league leaders.

The 33-year-old Lisburn man made 63 appearances for Ulster before making the switch to Exeter in 2012 and has since become one of the veterans of the Chiefs' squad, starting alongside fellow countryman Steenson in the 2017 Premiership final.

The likes of England trio Jack Nowell, Henry Slade and Luke Cowan-Dickie, as well as Scotland skipper Stuart Hogg, are among those to have also signed long-term deals alongside Whitten at Sandy Park.

Exeter's mass extensions come after Premiership Rugby clubs came to an agreement in June to slash their salary cap by £1.4million in the wake of the financial damage cast upon the sport by the coronavirus pandemic.

The new salary cap comes into effect from the 2021/22 campaign and Exeter have wasted no time in making sure they fall in line.

"I'm delighted with what has happened," Chiefs' director of rugby Rob Baxter said.

"It seems strange really, because there has been an awful lot of news coming out from other clubs in regards what is happening around pay cuts, players leaving, players staying, yet we have got on with our business pretty quickly.

"They are all different and not one of them is the same.

"It's meant us having individual discussions with players and agents, but in the end I feel like we've all got what we need out of it."

Exeter finished top of the Premiership table last year but lost the final to Saracens, who have since been deducted a total of 105 points from the current season for breach of salary cap rules over recent years.

Belfast Telegraph