Former North Walsham forward Toby Salmon ready for his leap to Aviva Premiership with reigning champions Exeter Chiefs
Pinnacle Photo Agency Ltd
As pre-season gets up to speed, David Freezer speaks to Norfolk's latest member of the Aviva Premiership posse Toby Salmon, as the forward begins life with reigning champions Exeter Chiefs.
Bolstering the Norfolk ranks at the top level of English rugby this season will be Toby Salmon, after securing a dream move to Aviva Premiership champions Exeter Chiefs.
The former North Walsham player, who learned his trade at Scottow from five years old, has signed a two-year deal to become a part of the remarkable story at the Devon club.
Chiefs were in the fourth tier 21 years ago and reached the top tier in 2010. With head coach Rob Baxter a constant throughout that time, Exeter finished second before being beaten in their first Premiership final in 2016, before completing an incredible journey by lifting the trophy at Twickenham at the end of last season.
Before that glorious 23-20 victory over Wasps in May, Baxter had added Norwich-born lock Salmon to his squad for the 2017-18 campaign.
It was already a tantalising opportunity for the former Langley School pupil, who grew up in Ranworth, near South Walsham, but he didn’t know he would be joining the champions.
“All the guys here, it’s just going to bring a different level for me,” Salmon said after getting stuck in to pre-season training with his new team-mates this week.
“They are the champions and currently the best team in the country so there’s a lot of people I can learn from and there’s still lots I can learn from people who are a lot more experienced than me at Premiership level – so it’s really exciting.”
The 24-year-old joins the likes of England international Jack Nowell and Henry Slade at Sandy Park – and will be looking to take advantage of the hole left in the Chiefs’ second row by Geoff Parling, who is heading to Japan and then Australian Super Rugby franchise Melbourne Rebels.
“When you go to any side they’ve seen what you’re capable of and that’s why they’ve recruited you but at the end of the day you’ve got to go there and make an impression, no matter what level you’re coming from,” Salmon continued.
“So being at Exeter will be quite telling for how I’m going to get on but I’m just going to give it my all in the next few months and then see where I am.”
Exeter boss Baxter was full of praise for Salmon when it was confirmed the former London Irish academy player would be leaving Championship side Rotherham Titans in January.
Salmon, who graduated from University of Winchester with a law and business management degree, played a handful of games for North Walsham at the start of 2014-15 before playing for National Two South side Chinnor, in Oxfordshire.
A spell in New Zealand training with Christchurch club Linwood continued his development before returning home and joining Rotherham in the summer of 2015.
Now standing at six-foot six-inches tall and weighing in at around 18-and-a-half stone, his form with Titans was enough to impress Exeter.
“In regards Toby, we have had a good look around and having closely analysed his game, we saw a lot of the qualities we like and think will make him thrive in the Premiership,” Chiefs coach Baxter said.
“We aren’t necessarily going to advertise what they are, but he has skills which we feel will transfer to the Premiership quite well. The player himself has shown a bit of self-awareness in areas to improve, so he is someone we can work with.
“It is always nice to bring people in from the Championship to fight for their place in the team and the squad and that is a very important quality for him to have. At his age, he’ll develop going forward. He has the base qualities that we look for but I can see him really thriving in the next few years.”
Salmon now joins Norfolk’s ever-growing Premiership posse, including Ben and Tom Youngs, Will Evans and George Catchpole at Leicester Tigers, Charlie Clare at Northampton Saints and Calum Green at Newcastle.
“I was reaching out to a few Premiership clubs,” the newest member of that club continued. “As a Championship player you always want to go up to the next level so I was seeing if they were interested in a player like me so luckily it worked out both ways and Exeter were interested in having me on board.
“Obviously them being from the Championship as well means they still look at Championship players, which a lot of teams in the Premiership have come away from, but they still see there’s talent in the Championship. It’s an amazing thing to be a part of.”
With his girlfriend based in London and an easy flight back to Norwich available from Exeter, Salmon is ready for his big chance, adding: “I’m quite ambitious and I just want to push myself and see how far I can get.”