Exeter coach Ali Hepher wants more England call-ups

Tom Johnson
Johnson celebrates his first ever Saxons try last summer against the USA

Exeter Chiefs assistant coach Ali Hepher says he wants to see more of his squad involved with the England set-up.

Despite being sixth in the Premiership, Exeter only have one player involved with flanker Tom Johnson retaining his place in the Saxons squad.

"We're right in there with the best of them so we would like a bit more but we understand it's going to take a little bit of time," Hepher said.

"Hopefully over the coming years we'll push a few more into those squads."

The Chiefs are only in their second season in English rugby's top flight after being promoted from the Championship in 2010.

"We've got a short history in the Premiership so it probably counts a bit against us.

"But equally the England coaches have seen plenty of us, they've spoken to Rob so you can't take that away from them, they've made their best efforts.

"It will just evolve over time and we're looking forward and hope our youngsters and academy guys in a few years time can kick on and up into these senior squads," Hepher told BBC Radio Devon.

Exeter's academy provided five players for the England Under-18 side last summer such as Henry Slade, Jack Nowell and Luke Cowan-Dickie, all of whom have played Championship rugby this season.

And Saxons coach Jon Callard told BBC Sport that he believes Exeter will provide more players for the national team in the future.

"I think that they're probably just a few short on what they could have had, but if you look at their academy structure just under their first side they've got some fantastic players coming through," he said.

"They've got a lot of potential there and I would suggest that Exeter will be a top four force in the very near future."

Hepher feels that 29-year-old Johnson's call-up is a deserved recognition for the hard work he has put in since he joined Exeter from Coventry in 2007.

"TJ's done a great job since he's been at the club, he works tirelessly to improve himself," Hepher said.

"He's been a fantastic member of the squad and he fully deserves the recognition that he's getting and it shows to a lot of players that if you put in the hard work you can get these honours."

Johnson was part of the Saxons squad which won the Churchill Cup last summer and hopes he can us his call-up to impress acting England boss Stuart Lancaster, who was in charge of the Saxons last year.

"Everyone wants to try and get into the main squad and it's definitely a starting place," Johnson said.

"I really enjoyed it in the summer, we played a really exciting brand of rugby there and there'll be some great players in that squad.

"He (Lancaster) knows how we are on and off the pitch. He knows how switched on we are and how well we train and what we can bring to the team if need be."