By Mark Stevens
Kevin Barrett will say his goodbyes to life at Exeter Rugby Club this weekend insisting the Chiefs are in “safe hands” as they look to further establish themselves amongst the elite clubs in both England and Europe.
After two successful playing spells in Devon, the 32-year-old scrum-half is set for a new role within the game as he prepares to become part of the Strength & Conditioning team at rivals Saracens from next season.
He does, however, move on with plenty of happy and proud memories from his time with the Chiefs, insisting the ambitious Westcountry outfit will always be a “second home” for him.
“I’ve had two spells at the club and I’ve enjoyed every minute of them,” he said. “I first came to the club back in 2005 at the old County Ground and was then part of the squad that made the move up here to Sandy Park.
“I moved away in 2009 to join Saracens, which in itself was also a great experience for me – especially being part of their squad that won the Premiership, but I got the chance to come back to Exeter again in 2011 and it’s been another great time for me and my family.
Each year the club keep moving on and pushing the boundaries, so to be part of all that has been fantastic.”
Retiring with over 120 Exeter first team appearances to his name, Ascot-born Barrett has seen how the club has transformed itself from a semi-professional outfit at the County Ground to one of the top five clubs in English rugby.
“I remember during my first spell talking to Tony Rowe and him outlining his vision of Heineken Cup rugby for the Chiefs,” said Barrett. “At the time I didn’t really believe it would happen, but to come back a few years later and be part of the squad that gained that status, it was just brilliant and it made myself and all the squad very proud.”
Qualification into Europe’s top cup competition is just one of a number of highlights for Barrett during his Chiefs career, although another was in February 2006 when Exeter became the only side that season to inflict a National League One defeat on champions Harlequins. On that afternoon, Barrett was joined by current club-mates James Hanks and Richard Baxter in the starting line-up that secured a 13-8 win.
Like Barrett, long-serving No.8 Baxter is also set to call time on his Chiefs career, bringing to an end a senior playing role that has seen him amass 430 appearances and 126 tries for the club to date.
Teaming up together for years, Barrett was quick to pay tribute to his close friend adding: “Richie is an absolute legend for Exeter Rugby. Even now he’s still playing week in, week out at the highest level. I’m sure he could go on for a few more years, but he’s going out on his terms and I respect that a lot. For me, it’s been a privilege to play alongside him and see how he conducts himself, both on and off the field. He’s a true professional and I’m sure a lot of the youngsters at the club can learn a lot from him.”
And the young talent pool currently being developed by the Exeter coaches is something Barrett knows will ensure the Chiefs continue to flourish in the years to come.
“The club is definitely in safe hands with Rob and Tony in charge,” said Barrett. “Also the coaches, Ali and Ricky, they have been great guys to work with over the last few years. Each year you can see the Chiefs are developing more and more, especially with the young talent that is coming through. I’ve no doubt they will continue to keep pushing the boundaries as they look to progress.
“For sure I’m going to keep a close eye on things down here. Exeter has been like a second home for me and it will always hold a special place in my heart.”
Barrett has also praised the club’s support base, many of whom have made themselves heard up and down the country, as well as notable locations across Europe in the past three years.
“The Chiefs supporters are just brilliant,” he said. “Whether we’re at home or away, you can always hear them in the stands making loads of noise. As players it’s great to get that kind of backing every week. I remember just last year in Paris when we played at Stade, it was half empty in the stadium, but you could still hear the Tribe belting out the Tomahawk Chop and that’s something I will always remember.”
Alongside 13 other Chiefs this weekend, Barrett will say his official goodbyes following tomorrow’s sold-out Premiership encounter with Gloucester at Sandy Park.