Players should have bigger role in disciplinary process – Exeter’s Rob Baxter

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Exeter boss Rob Baxter wants players to have a far greater input into rugby union’s disciplinary and law-making processes.

Baxter has spoken out after Chiefs forwards Sam Skinner and Dave Ewers received bans and will miss the Gallagher Premiership play-off against Sale at Sandy Park on Saturday.

Scotland lock Skinner was sent off for a dangerous tackle during last weekend’s 20-19 regular-season victory over Sale, while flanker Ewers was cited following his yellow card for a dangerous tackle in the same game.

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The Rugby Football Union said both players appeared before an online independent disciplinary panel and they each received a four-week ban.

It means they will also be unavailable for the Premiership final at Twickenham on June 26 if Exeter beat Sale.

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“I am very disappointed. If I am honest, I am struggling with the whole process and everything about it a little bit,” Baxter said.

“There is a huge amount of inconsistency, a lack of empathy for the players involved in the incidents.

“I definitely think it is getting to the stage that it is something that the players who are currently playing the game need to decide through the RPA (Rugby Players’ Association) on how they are going to do it, have a lot more input on how the whole process around making the laws, how they are refereed, cited etc.

“There are a number of players who play now who feel the law changes and regulations and disciplinary procedure is not being directed for them.

“The whole scenario is not player-based, and there is no empathy for the player who is there.

“I am not saying there isn’t a need to look at head contact, of course there is. But there are two sides to every process, and it isn’t feeling like that at the moment.

Newcastle Falcons v Exeter Chiefs – Gallagher Premiership – Kingston Park
Exeter flanker Dave Ewers (Mike Egerton/PA)

“The actual ruling is not a problem. I am not complaining that the four-week ban should be a different ban, I am talking about how they are found to be guilty in the first place.”

The RFU said Skinner and Ewers contested the charges, but they were upheld by the disciplinary panel.

It is a major double setback for Exeter, who are bidding to reach a sixth successive Premiership final.

Baxter added: “They (current players) are the most educated group of players we have ever had in the history of rugby union.

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“So if some of them turn around and say ‘I am not sure if I like the way the game is going,’ they are not doing that from a position of ignorance. No-one could claim that.

“You’ve got a guy, Dave Ewers, who is 30, he has played international rugby and has played numerous Heineken Cup games and Premiership games. In all that time, he has never had one card for foul play.

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“So surely, you go into the proceedings and think ‘this guy is clearly not a guy who has been running round committing foul play’.

“He has played numerous games under the new rules and still not had a problem, so in my opinion, as a starting point we should be having a look and saying ‘what has created this scenario?’

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“But it is not done like that. It’s just about Exeter having to prove that the citing commissioner is wrong to think that it could be upgraded to a red card.

“I still feel there is an element of inconsistency around what are mitigating factors and what is deemed as mitigating, and what is starting the process.

“Yes, we have to look after the guys who are potentially being high-tackled. Everyone has got a responsibility to tackle lower and safely – it is written in stone, we are all aware of it – but rugby is an incredibly dynamic game with a lot of moving parts.

“Sometimes it just feels like where is the empathy, or the understanding of, that mechanism of moving parts, understanding how players move around the field? What is the genuine expectation of what is happening in a game of rugby?”

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