Chris Budgen still a driving force for Exeter Chiefs despite recently celebrating 40th birthday
Veteran Exeter Chiefs prop Chris Budgen is relishing the prospect of facing his former club Northampton Saints at Sandy Park on Saturday in their final pool match in this season's LV= Cup.
Budgen celebrated his 40th birthday on January 21 by coming on as a 70th-minute replacement in the 16-6 cup defeat at Bath last weekend.
It was his first action in a Chiefs' shirt since he started a match in the same competition against London Welsh in mid-November.
"If I am involved on Saturday, I will really look forward to it and I can't wait," said Budgen, who splits his time between Sandy Park and his job as a lance corporal in the Army, stationed on Salisbury Plain.
"Northampton are not going so well, and they are a bit like us at the moment in that they are so close to getting it right, and they are playing to a game plan but not quite getting it together.
"A lot of their internationals will be involved in the Six Nations Championship on Saturday, as will one or two of ours, but I reckon it will be a good game."
Northampton require a bonus-point win to guarantee they finish top of Pool Four and reach the LV= Cup semi-finals, while Exeter need something similar, and hope Pool One leaders Harlequins slip up in their final group match at Ospreys 24 hours later, to keep their own hopes of progress in the competition alive.
"It is another big game for us, and another opportunity for the guys who haven't been in the main first-team squad for a while," said New Zealand-born Budgen, who spent seven years at Franklin's Gardens.
"It is another step up, and we just have to get it right.
"We are playing good rugby, but we are just making silly little mistakes and it is costing us a little bit, but as long as we keep sticking at it, it will come off.
"We mustn't stop attacking games. We are a positive side and we want to go forward, and if we stop playing and go into our shells, we will come unstuck."
Budgen was one of the experienced members of a pretty young squad who suffered defeat at Bath, when the Chiefs had the opportunities to clinch their first win over their West Country rivals in eight attempts.
"We are a little bit disappointed. We played a lot of rugby and just made silly little mistakes at crucial times, and they capitalised on it," explained the 20-stone-plus prop, who was presented with a signed shirt bearing the number 40 by his Exeter team-mates to celebrate his landmark birthday.
"When Bath got close to our line, they finished off with two good tries, after good driving mauls, and Peter Stringer is a class scrum-half and sniped his way over, but we had a lot of young boys out there, and they played well."
Budgen admitted that being involved with some of the club's talented youngsters was one of the enjoyable aspects of being at Sandy Park.
"Some of them are good kids," he said.
"Saturday was the first time Luke [Cowan-Dickie] had played hooker for us and he played really well, especially in a pressure game like that. Sladey [Henry Slade] has had a few injuries this year but he stepped up to the mark, and started the game really well and kicked well.
"Nowellsy [Jack Nowell] was exactly the same. Every time he has put the first-team jersey on, he has played well for the club.
"They are the big future for the club, and as long as they keep playing like they are, the club is going to go forward."
Whether Budgen will be part of that future beyond the end of this campaign, when his one-year contract runs out, remains to be seen.
"I still enjoy it, but I don't know about next year. We will have to see what Rob [head coach Rob Baxter] says, but it is nice playing with these young lads and they keep me on my toes," said the hugely popular front-rower.