Geoff Parling: Leicester Tigers to Exeter Chiefs a sign of the times

By Joe TownsendBBC Sport
Geoff Parling
British & Irish Lions duo Sean O'Brien (left-centre) and Geoff Parling (right-centre) celebrate beating Australia in 2013

Roll back to 30 January 2010.

Exeter Chiefs, bidding to reach English rugby's top flight for the first time in their history, have just beaten Nottingham in front of 4,084 fans.

Without a major trophy in the cupboard and having never counted an England international in their ranks, Rob Baxter, only named head coach seven months previous, is the man tasked with leading them to the Premiership.

Success is far from a foregone conclusion.

But roll forward to 30 January 2015 - five years, three England Test stars, two Heineken Cup campaigns and later - and now the club are celebrating another first.

The - Geoff Parling - has been announced.

Geoff Parling

"They still talk about West Country folk like we've got straw coming out of our ears but we're reasonably intelligent, especially when it comes to rugby," said BBC Radio Devon summariser, and former Exeter captain, John Lockyer.

"We have a European Challenge Cup quarter-final in April, and now there's a world-class lock signing. I say many times on the radio that the club is living the dream - sometimes I pinch myself to make sure it's all real.

"People say Gloucester when they're talking about West Country rugby and that's just over 50 miles from Birmingham. This is the real West Country and Exeter's putting it on the map."

In 2010 Chiefs started doing just that, ending the south west's wait for a top-tier rugby club, and going on to give the region its first piece of major silverware only eight months ago.

Geoff Parling's career progression
2003 - Makes Premiership debut for Newcastle against Rotherham
2009 - Leaves Newcastle for Leicester
2012 - Makes England debut against Scotland at Murrayfield
2013 - Plays in all three Tests as British & Irish Lions win series in Australia
2015 - Agrees two-year deal with Exeter

Parling will hope to add to that, given the 31-year-old's current club has a trophy cabinet packed to the rafters. Since the Heineken Cup was launched in 1995, Leicester have competed at the top level of European rugby in every season that English teams have entered.

On top of that, last term's ended Tigers' run of reaching nine league finals in a row.

Chiefs were midway through a 13-year stay in the Championship when Leicester started that run, and were still housed at the County Ground - a stadium with just 750 seats.

Parling more than a player - Baxter

"I know it seems like a big difference between Tigers and Exeter but it isn't," said BBC Sport rugby union analyst Jeremy Guscott.

"Rob Baxter's established a top Premiership club now. Sometimes you need a move to freshen things up and Parling can help take Exeter to the next level."

Since 2011, the England national team has operated a policy whereby anyone playing club rugby outside the Premiership is ineligible for selection unless in "exceptional circumstances".

From next season, the division's basic salary cap will with clubs also able to name a second player whose wages are excluded from this, as long as he arrives from outside the Premiership.

Internationals such as Toby Flood, and Delon and Steffon Armitage play in France's Top 14 where there the wage limit is currently 10m euros (£7.8m).

Exeter celebrate
Exeter celebrate beating Northampton to win the 2014 LV= Cup

"Geoff will have looked at all the options available to him, I'm sure," said Guscott, who represented England 65 times, as well as the Lions on eight occasions, as a player.

"When most players at what you'd consider the top teams reach their 30s, they look for an extended contract, and unless they're exceptional, those clubs aren't giving them out.

"But Parling is a class player. It's a huge signing for Exeter and I think the fact he's probably turned down big money offers from France shows just how far they've come, and what they're trying to achieve."

Last year, making him the first England international to move to Sandy Park.

Parling's arrival sees the pair reunited in the pack after their time together at Welford Road.

Three big Exeter signings
Geoff ParlingPosition: LockAge: 31England caps: 21Dean MummPosition: LockAge: 28Australia caps: 33Thomas WaldromPosition: Number eightAge: 31England caps: four
*age and caps accurate to when player was signed by Exeter

"With Geoff, this is an investment in the man - we're wanting so much more than just a player," Exeter coach Baxter told BBC Spotlight.

"He'll add so much because of his quality, but also his experience and the sort of character he is. We want him to have an impact in helping develop the players we already have at the club.

"He fancied a change, still wants to learn but also wants to contribute to what we're building here.

"I've said exactly the same to him as I did to Tom Waldrom when we signed him - 'we want a lot out of you for a good few years'.

"I'm sure he can deliver."

Rob Baxter was speaking to BBC Spotlight's Dave Gibbins.

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