Indoor cricket and the Chiefs
January 10, 2014
Australia international Dean Mumm is loving life at the Chiefs © Getty Images
Culture, one of the great undefinable aspects of sport; it means something different to every team. Individuals, coaches, teams all strive to find that elusive blend of off-field happiness and on-field success. Whatever they are doing at the Exeter Chiefs seems to be working.
The Chiefs are not a club for standing still. Promotion to the Aviva Premiership ahead of the 2010-11 season was met head on rather than with a whimper. They defied the odds to stay in the top flight and it is testament to Rob Baxter's work that they are now part of the furniture. But their off-field success did not come about by chance, it was part of their DNA, standards set from the previous set of Chiefs that Baxter carried on.
At the Chiefs, the players are split between two changing rooms - aptly labelled 'home and away'. What has developed between the two is a routine game of indoor cricket between the 'home' room, where the inhabitants are "the older blokes" according to club captain Dean Mumm, and the 'away' room housing the international players and younger chaps.
Mumm says the banter gets "reasonably vicious" while the cricket is "intense". The competitive nature seen during the various overs of indoor cricket are all part of the culture at the club, but mere culture is not enough to generate on-field success, as Mumm well knows.
"I think it's pretty unique, in terms of cultures I've experienced," Mumm told ESPN. "There's a really strong professional element which cover the bases of training, tactics and analysis but we have a good balance between that aspect and some of the amateur side.
"We have a good time and enjoy ourselves off field and there's not too much pressure on behavioural aspects. I've been in plenty of teams where they try and curb your whole behaviour but there's a nice balance between training hard and allowing people to get on and do stuff in their own time. I think that cultural side is reasonably independent.
"But I don't think the way you spin a ball, whether it's off or leg, counts for much on the field but it's all about balance."
Due to the geographical location of Exeter, the players and support staff are well used to long bus rides as they journey to the various corners of England. Following a game, on the road back to Devon, the atmosphere is similar whether win, lose or draw.
"It's reasonably far from a nanny culture. We end up doing a lot of bus rides down here and we enjoy them win, lose or draw - we try and keep a level-playing field in how we react to wins and then on the flipside, we don't over-analyse losses. There's a nice balance to it."
The freedom Mumm experiences at the Chiefs both on and off the field are a far cry from his time in Australia, a place where sportsmen and women live a fairly claustrophobic life.
"The reason why Australian sport is so intense is that as there are so many sports competing for attention from what is a small population, clubs and people have to open themselves up in terms of media and camera access to sell a product," Mumm explains. "There's less of that going on down here."
Back in 2012 he swapped Sydney for Exeter when he left the Waratahs to take up a two-year offer with the Chiefs.
Now club captain, Mumm extended his stay earlier this year. One of the form locks in the Premiership, you can expect Mumm would have garnered plenty of interest both from near and far had he chosen to explore other opportunities, but the lure of the Chiefs proved to be too much.
"It's really easy to tell whether a team is enjoying themselves or not and you can see that in how they play, the difference is huge. Perception is reality in a lot of those aspects. Outside people say to me that it looks like we are having fun and that's true. We enjoy playing rugby together and you can't underestimate the importance in that."
"You can speak to whoever you want mate, there are no stars here", was the message from the superb media officer at the Chiefs when approached about chatting to Mumm and that seems to be the crux of the club, as Mumm explains.
"It's not about chasing names to sell tickets and seats, it's about the actions of the team and how that speaks more of the individual and that's a really important aspect of this place."
© Getty Images
To the outsider looking in, it is perhaps flippant to dismiss the Chiefs as a team without "stars", as they have a series of fantastic players - Mumm has 33 caps for the Wallabies and is one of Australia's finest locks. But there are no strutting peacocks though, something the media officer was alluding to, and it is something Stuart Lancaster has recognised at England.
Thursday's squad announcement saw two players named in the Six Nations squad and six overall split between the EPS, Saxons and Under-20 sides - not a bad return for a team who were playing Birmingham at home four years ago in the Championship. Lancaster is still building his culture with England, but his decision to call up that number of Chiefs players alongside borrowing coach Baxter for England's summer tour to Argentina shows just how much he values what Exeter are doing down in Devon.
This season's Heineken Cup is coming to an end for the Chiefs as getting out of their pool is all but impossible but they face Glasgow on Saturday and there will be players wearing the white of Exeter desperate to get another win in the famous tournament. The experience over the past two seasons has whetted the appetite, according to Mumm, and ensuring they are playing at Europe's top table in whatever format the domestic game takes next season is essential for his Chiefs.
For Mumm and the rest of his team they still have plenty to play for this season both on the field and also in the changing room. Details of who the stars are at indoor cricket have stayed within the confines of the Sandy Park changing room. Mumm, who is flourishing in the role as club captain, will continue to take his place in the international changing room despite being skipper; after all, there are no stars at Exeter.
"I'm not an old boy at this club mate. I remember one of the players I played with never wanted to be at the back of the bus because he thought that if he was there, there was only one way out - out the door and never come back. You pick and choose your changing room. I didn't think I had the fortitude to go into the old heads and now I'm stuck in the international one and very happy there."
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd
Tom Hamilton is the Assistant Editor of ESPNscrum.