Exeter Chiefs will kick off their Aviva Premiership season this weekend against Bath rugby and will look to build on an impressive 2014/2015 season. The darling team of the Premiership who play exciting and free flowing rugby.
Their home base Sandy Park has been one of the most vibrant grounds in the Rugby World Cup and RuggaWorld’s Benedict Chanakira managed to chat to Don Armand who is part of this team on the rise.
Don calls Sandy Park home now after a stint in the Cape with the Stormers. He has been part of the superb and impressive rise of the English club. Don spoke about the Aviva Premiership, the 2015/2016 season, his World Cup loyalties and test rugby for Zimbabwe among many things.
BC: Who will he be supporting at the World Cup?
DA : I was definitely supporting England and now I am shouting for South Africa.
BC: Varsity Cup
DA: I think it is a great competition. There are easier routes to the top via academies or junior contracts to some players. Now there is a stepping stone for the guys who are studying and will get the opportunity to showcase the talent they have with quite a large fan base.
BC: Maritzburg College old boy, junior rugby in KZN but managed to make Super Rugby debut for the Stormers. How was it?
DA: It was an awesome debut , I flew in first class to Australia towards the end of a tour and I was named on the bench to cover the loose-forward position. I got there jet-lagged, the Wednesday I injured my knee in a session. I went into the game strapped up heavily, it was raining and I managed to go in at number 8. It was a new position, a debut, new experience but it was the perfect introduction for me to Super Rugby. It was different and I was like a deer caught in headlights. I will never forget the experience.
DA: It is kind of similar to University of Cape Town’s Ikeys; a fantastic team environment which offered and offers players the chance to improve. Develops the individual, there are a great bunch of guys here and I have had the best of experiences. I mean we missed out on the top 4 but we are on the rise. It was a matter of points difference, with eventual champions Saracens who we managed to beat twice in the season. We have come a long way but the impact of Rob Baxter is massive. The impact he has had alongside the coaching staff has made this team what it is. An impressive investment on the people.
BC: Got married, was part of the club’s first piece of silverware a week later? Fantastic week for you maybe?
DA: This was sad because James Hanks got injured. I had to step in and capped off an exceptional week. I got 20 minutes in that final and it was against Northampton Saints. A high pressure environment and to win was great. It was followed by celebrations and an open bus experience.
BC: What is the Aviva Premiership like as compared to the Super Rugby Competition?
DA: Super rugby is southern hemisphere’s premier competition. You have the publicity in Super Rugby and rarely do people in the southern hemisphere follow the Premiership abroad as compared to Super Rugby. The Premiership offers players the opportunity to not just play in dry conditions but also wet conditions and this means adapting to set piece dominated rugby and running rugby which is the rugby we play here. You can say the Premiership is the best of both worlds a lot more than Super Rugby.
BC: Which is the derby for you?
DA: I look forward to Bath, I mean we had a history of never beating them to beating them last season which was pretty great. I will be keen to see if they will respond this season or we will be able to get another one over them.
BC: Henry Slade?
DA: I think he was unfortunate not to get a lot of game time at the World Cup. One of the most talented youngsters in the world. He is an exceptional talent especially considering his move from flyhalf to outside centre and still managing to adapt very well. His battle with Manu Tuilagi was a fine example of his ability with Slade putting his hand up.
BC: Biggest hit he has taken?
DA: I was at training with the Stormers and I was doing a pick and go, I went into Duane Vermeulen and let’s just say he is a strong guy.
BC: Newlands or Sandy Park?
DA: Sandy Park has great support and some passionate fans.
BC: European Rugby Champions Cup?
DA: Looking forward to it. It will be exciting and we are looking forward to playing against some good matches and relishing the test against the best sides in Europe.
BC: Born in Zimbabwe, raised in South Africa and playing in England. If you had to play test rugby for one of them, who would it be?
DA: I am proud of my heritage and will depend on what situation I am in. If I had my own way; it wasn’t the professional era, career was not an option and maybe in my last year as a player I would choose Zimbabwe. Why? I am proud of my birth place, and it would be good to play for them. Maybe one day. It is a difficult question really but I would love to play for any of the three sides. I am equally excited to be playing for the Exeter Chiefs at the moment though.
BC: Exeter pushed the traditional Premiership giants last season. What will the Chiefs be aiming for this season?
DA: We definitely feel like this is a big season and hope to replicate last season’s form. It will be our aim to be more clinical in closing games out and be more consistent especially in the games we are expected to win.
BC: Thank you Don for your time!
DA: Cheers Ben!