A lot has changed in the life of Exeter club captain Jack Yeandle as he begins his 10th season with his hometown club.
The 31-year-old, who has helped the Chiefs reach the last six Premiership finals as well as winning the 2020 European Champions Cup, will add to his 220 appearances for the club when he runs out next week in their season opener at Leicester.
“The biggest thing for me is I’m still just as desperate and just as hungry to get out there and play,” he tells BBC Sport.
Having joined the club from Championship side Doncaster in 2012, Yeandle has gone on to establish himself in Exeter’s front row alongside British and Irish Lions and England hooker Luke Cowan-Dickie.
With Yeandle in the squad the Chiefs have won two Premiership crowns – as well as two Anglo-Welsh Cup titles – as the Devon club has become one of English rugby’s dominant forces.
‘I remember the stadium being built’
“I was just doing anything I could to prove myself,” Yeandle recalls of his early time at Exeter to BBC Sport.
“I was going out on loan to Cornish Pirates, which did me the world of good.
“It wasn’t as heavily structured as it is now so it was a case of turn up, get told ‘you’re down at Pirates today’, go down to Pirates and drive back. I didn’t complain, I just got my head down and cracked on.
“I was fortunate enough that season to get a run in the team and show what I could do and it’s progressed on very nicely since then.”
Exeter-born Yeandle was a regular in the crowd as a youngster watching his hometown side try to win promotion to the top flight – something they managed two years before he joined the club – and he says that time in the stands makes it more special when he plays in front of the Sandy Park faithful.
“You obviously feel proud for whatever shirt you put on but I think being born here, I used to go and watch games at the County Ground with my dad, even watching Monday night A League games – I remember the stadium being built and coming to watch the opening game here, England versus Italy.
“It’s pretty special, I’ll probably look back on it more once I eventually hang my boots up, which won’t be for another 10 years if I can help it.”
Yeandle is keen to stress that he has no plans to wind down his career any time soon – he describes his love for pre-season training as “a bit weird” – even if 2021’s off-season was punctuated by a bout of Covid-19.
But that enjoyment of pre-season comes with a purpose – to be as ready as he can be for another season which he and his team-mates hope can end with more success.
“At the moment I’m just enjoying being on this ride really, it’s nice to be a part of.
“But I’m not comfortable with it just being nice, I want it to be successful and I think that’s kind of reflected with the club as well in that everyone says ‘it’s been really nice for Exeter Chiefs’ – well we as a club don’t want it to be nice, we want it to be really successful.
“We’re not happy with it just being OK and nicey nicey, we want to push on and be really successful and achieve things.
“There’s definitely the desire there to keep going as long as I can, I don’t even like having this conversation because I genuinely haven’t even shared a thought about it.
“I think when you start to get into that mindset where you see rugby as a job, that’s where you’re almost on the decline there and I love coming to work, I love training, I love being around the boys, I love going out there and playing.”
‘There so much more in the tank’
So what of this season?
Exeter were involved in one of the greatest Premiership finals in the summer, but the late loss to Harlequins was a fourth defeat at Twickenham in six appearances for Yeandle and his team-mates.
“Strangely we’ve kind of been able to move on because we know we were quite far off performing as well as we should have,” says Yeandle says of the defeat that day.
“But you’ve got to give full credit to Quins, they definitely turned up, they definitely performed really well – they were desperate and I think that’s kind of what we were lacking, we weren’t absolutely desperate for everything.
“Obviously it hurts, obviously it stings, you’ve lost a final on the grand stage, the target you’ve been going for you’ve probably missed at the last hurdle.
“But I think knowing that there’s so much more in the tank from us and so much more that we can go out there and put on the pitch, that’s the pleasing thing.”