By Nigel Walrond
Exeter Chiefs skipper Dean Mumm is set to miss the start of the new Aviva Premiership campaign in September after undergoing a shoulder operation.
The 30-year-old former Australian international second row forward suffered the injury last season, and it has not recovered as the Chiefs had hoped.
It is a blow to Exeter’s early-season plans as he is a key figure in the team.
Chiefs head coach Rob Baxter explained: ‘Dean finished the season with a little bit of a shoulder issue.
“He came back and played the last two games of the campaign against Harlequins and Newcastle, but he came off against Newcastle with a bit of a problem with the shoulder.
“It was felt a bit of rest and rehab would sort the problem out, but it became obvious, once we got back into the start of pre-season, that the issue hadn’t really improved with a block of rest, so we investigated it a bit further.
“They had an exploratory look in there, and found one or two bits and pieces that needed tidying up and sewing back together, so he has had a shoulder operation to repair some ligament damage.
“The fact we have managed to get on with things now, we are hopeful he won’t miss too much of the season.
“He is probably unlikely to feature in the first game of the season, but we are hopeful he will be back fully fit relatively quickly and it will not be a half-a-season job. Hopefully he will able to play for us sometime in that first block of six Premiership games.”
Baxter has been searching for another lock to add to his squad, in addition to the summer arrivals of Ryan Caldwell from Bath and Mitch Lees from London Welsh, after the retirement of second rows Tommy Hayes and James Hanks last season and the departure of Romana Graham to La Rochelle.
But he feels no increased urgency to bring someone in to cover for Mumm’s injury because Caldwell and Lees, who can also play in the back row, have been doing so well in pre-season training.
“Looking at the squad as it stands, Ryan is training really well, Mitch looks really good and I have been really impressed with those two guys coming in,’ said Baxter.
“Will Carrick-Smith is also starting to look like a big, strong man who knows what his body is doing.
“He has had a little bit of a tough time because he has just been growing non-stop, but he is training really, really well. We have got those guys almost as new signings to replace guys who didn’t really play very much last season in Tommy Hayes and James Hanks with their injury issues, and we feel pretty comfortable.
“Damian Welch (below) is fully fit now and has come back from his ankle operation and is training full on, and he had a big season for us last year.
“If you start to look at the combinations we have got with Damian, Don Armand, Will, Mitch and Ryan, who are all training well, and we know Dean will be coming back into the mix at some stage early in the season, I am not too fretful about it.”
Baxter has not ruled out adding to his second-row options by bringing in a new player, but he is prepared to bide his time and wait for the right player to come along.
“It is always the same with us, we kind of wait and see if the right person comes on the market, rather than go out and desperately say “what’s available, what’s available? We have got to sign somebody”.”
Baxter said that if a shortage of locks became a major crisis, he could possibly turn to a solution locally with the likes of Cornish Pirates and Plymouth Albion.
“We have got a good relationship with the local clubs,’ he said. ‘Before we had Alan Paver come in for us from the Pirates for a Premiership game, and I am sure, if we got to the stage it was a real problem, I think we would be relatively confident that we could get help from our local clubs, or guys could step up from our Academy and we can make things work.
“I would rather do it that way, than literally sign a body for the sake of it, though if the right player becomes available and we think will fit in and improve us at the top end, then great, and we are open to that.”
The Chiefs open their Premiership campaign with a trip to London Welsh on Sunday, September 7.