Exeter v Harlequins in Premiership Cup
Exeter’s last Premiership Rugby Cup match was a 49-22 semi-final loss to Harlequins at Sandy Park in February 2020

Exeter coach Ricky Pellow has welcomed the return of the Premiership Rugby Cup after a season-long hiatus.

The tournament was not played last season to ease the fixture backlog caused by Covid-19 delays.

With the reserve A League having also not restarted, Pellow says it gives young players a rare chance to impress.

“It’s really good to get that group back together and put a Chiefs shirt on, for some of them for the first time since being contracted,” he said.

“We’ve loved this competition in the way that it’s bred players in the past and we’re going to use that this year for the same format as well.”

Players including Jack Nowell, Henry Slade, Sam Simmonds, Tom O’Flaherty and Jack Maunder have all made their debuts in the various iterations of the Premiership’s cup competition and Pellow hopes it will prove to be a similar pathway for the club’s current crop of young players.

“Through the whole Covid experience and coming out of that there’s been guys that have been itching for game time and to play,” he told BBC Sport.

“Not having an A League side and playing those games from week to week, there’s a group of players there that are really excited to put the Chiefs shirt on.

“In the past we’ve attacked this competition, so it’s really exciting, the players and the coaching staff and the club are really looking forward to it.”

Sam Maunder
Former England Under-20 scrum-half Sam Maunder has only played three times for Exeter since the outbreak of Covid-19

Many of the players who will feature for Exeter against Bristol on Saturday are out on loan at clubs such as Cornish Pirates, Plymouth Albion and Taunton in the Championship or National One.

Scrum-half Sam Maunder, younger brother of Exeter’s England nine Jack, is one of the Exeter players hoping to make an impact having spent this season on loan at nearby Taunton in English rugby’s third tier.

And he said the lack of playing opportunities outside the first team since the first Covid-19 lockdown did affect him.

“It was a really tough time,” the 21-year-old told BBC Sport.

“You come back from lockdown and you get the buzz again of playing some rugby, but then you hear murmurs that the A League’s not coming back and the Premiership Cup’s not going to be played.

“You feel like they might have missed a trick having young English players not playing for two years.

“For us, we were lucky enough to have some pretty switched-on academy coaches who day-by-day were checking on you and setting goals, so you weren’t wasting your time for two years, you were developing along the way.”

Exeter begin their Premiership Rugby Cup campaign at home to Bristol on Saturday before pool fixtures with Gloucester, Bath and Worcester.

The three pool winners and best runner-up will contest semi-finals in April before the final in May.

Sale are the defending champions after beating Harlequins in the delayed 2019-20 final in September last year.

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