Ireland's Ian Whitten and TJ Anderson of Connacht in a pre-World Cup friendly in 2011. ©INPHO/James Crombie
Irish Abroad

Green pastures: Chiefs' Whitten ready to 'give it a real rattle' against Leinster

The Lisburn native is settling into Aviva Premiership life with Exeter and is eager for a Heineken Cup challenge this afternoon.

WHEN IT WAS ANNOUNCED in March that Tommy Bowe was returning to his home province over the summer the rugby supporter in Ian Whitten rejoiced.

However, from a more practical point of view, the Lisburn native felt it was time to seek a new challenge.

Having split the right wing duties with Craig Gilroy for the majority of the 2011/12 season, Whitten still felt ‘on the fringes of the Ulster squad’ and the return of the conquering hero, Bowe, did not bode well for his playing prospects.

When his agent mentioned interest by the way of Exeter Chiefs in the Aviva Premiership, Whitten showed little hesitation in making the leap to the south west of England.

Having made his debut in 2009, as a 21-year-old, against Stade de France in the Heineken Cup and winning two caps (and scoring two tries) for Ireland in the Churchill Cup that summer, it was not farewell he envisioned.

Whitten has started six games in succession for his new side, won praise from his coach Rob Baxter and, later today, will face European champions Leinster in the Heineken Cup. It is not quite a story of heartbreak.

Setting off

“I spoke to other Ulster guys who had played in England before, Louis Stevenson and Dan Tuohy were great for advice,” Whitten told

“I admire the way Exeter play and recognised that they were a team on the up. Nobody I spoke to had a bad word to say about the club.

“It helps having lads like Tommy (Hayes) and Gareth (Steenson) here. It helps you to get settled in with the other lads.”

Tomás O’Leary, now with London Irish, recently lauded the Premiership for its intensity and the 25-year-old is quick to agree. He said:

Week-in, week-out it is a very competitive league. The results really matter against every side you play. There’s more pressure that way and it is definitely a greater mental challenge.

“You have to be at the top of your game each week just to get a result.”

Rattle and win

Whitten is expecting a mini convoy of family and friends to make their down to Dublin for the Heineken Cup clash against Leinster.

The winger believes that wins this seasons against Saracens, Harlequins and Sale – three teams that are all in Europe’s top tier this season – have steeled his side for their toughest test yet.

The levels we had against ‘Quins and Saracens,” he said, “that’s the level we need to perform at, minimum, to do well.

“Leinster away is another step up again and e will obviously need to raise our game again.

“One thing is for sure though, we’ll give it a real rattle.”

YouTube credit:

Leinster take on Cardiff at the RDS from 3:40pm (also on Sky Sports) and will cover the action live.

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