“I think I’ve learned way more through the journey I’ve been on than if I’d stayed at the top for the last five years. If I’d have stayed at the top and nothing had changed I think I’d be a lesser person than I feel like I am today.”
For a couple of seasons Exeter Chiefs flanker Don Armand was the toast of the Premiership – a back-rower who was regularly in everybody’s England side, bar that of head coach Eddie Jones.
He scored 11 tries as Exeter made a third Premiership final in 2018 but just over a year later he had seen his role begin to reduce to that of replacement as players including Jacques Vermeulen, Jannes Kirsten, Dave Ewers and Sam Simmonds came to the fore.
“You want to get guys in the team that push you and bring the team to the next level,” Armand, now 33, tells BBC Sport.
“If you lose favour to guys like Jacques and Jannes and all those guys, you kind of look and you’re like ‘OK, fair enough, I’m going to have work really hard’.
“It’s a really good spot to be in where you can say ‘I fell out of favour’ and I say ‘Yeah, look at the guy that’s playing ahead of me’.”
Putting his ‘best foot forward’
But this season has been something of a renaissance for the man from Zimbabwe’s capital Harare.
Injuries to others and Armand’s own good form have seen him make seven starts already, more than all of last season.
And he is closing in on the nine games he started in 2019-20, five of which came after the season returned from its Covid-19 suspension and saw squads fully utilised as games were crammed in.
“Playing more this year it’s interesting, it’s exciting,” Armond says of the current season. “There’s a few guys that’ll be coming back from injury so you’ve got to put your best foot forward and see what happens.
“I’ve always had a philosophy from coaches when I was at under-20s in South Africa about being a better person, and that’s what rugby can teach you outside of just rugby,” he adds.
“I feel like I’ve learned some really important lessons that will stand me well outside of rugby going forward.”
‘There’s so much to it other than just the results’
Armand joined Exeter from South Africa’s Stormers Super Rugby side in 2013 and his time at the club has coincided with the Chiefs becoming one of English rugby’s most dominant forces.
As well as their domestic success, Exeter also won a maiden European Champions Cup in 2020, with Armand enjoying a cameo appearance in the semi-final win over Toulouse.
Now one of the club’s longest-serving players, Armand says he never envisaged how good Exeter would become when he first moved to England.
“I do appreciate how far the club has come,” he says.
“But I certainly didn’t get here and think ‘I’m going to make this amazing’, I very much live in the moment and look at the people around me and those are the things that are important to me.
“But at the same time my mum is very good at reminding me about making sure I look back at where the club’s come from, where you’ve come, how things have developed and obviously when you do that it’s all about gratitude and bringing gratitude into your thinking.
“There’s a lot to be grateful for for the journey that I’ve been on and seen the club go through. It’s fantastic to see the people who’ve grown around me too, how the club has grown, the community – there’s so much to it other than just the results.”