Rob Baxter: Exeter boss expects more shocks in Premiership before calling latest law variations ‘madness’

Exeter director of rugby Rob Baxter believes the absence of relegation until the 2024/25 campaign will create even more shock results in the Premiership. Credit: Alamy
Exeter director of rugby Rob Baxter believes the absence of relegation until the 2024/25 campaign will create even more shock results in the Premiership. Credit: Alamy

Exeter director of rugby Rob Baxter believes the absence of relegation until the 2024/25 campaign will create even more shock results in the Premiership.

The latest round of action saw the league’s pace-setters – Saracens, Sale and Harlequins – lose to basement outfits London Irish, Newcastle and Bristol.

Standings in the Premiership were turned on their head over the past week as the results showed that any team can beat anyone in England on their day.

League different without relegation

Fortunately for Exeter, they avoided a slip-up against Bath on Christmas Eve, with Baxter insisting that not having relegation is a reason for the shocks.

“The league is so different without relegation – people probably don’t quite realise that,” explained the Exeter boss, whose side sits sixth in the standings.

“A perfect example is when we’ve been to Newcastle when they’ve been in the bottom two. It’s very hard to play with the ambition and desire that they play with now because there’s so much hanging on the result.

“We’ve won some pretty tight games against teams that have been in the bottom two because the game means so much that as it gets to that pressure 10 minutes at the end, they start to make more mistakes than you do.

“That’s actually changed a bit, and what you’re seeing is that teams at the bottom of the league can get on with it.

“They’re not looking over their shoulder; they’re looking upwards all the time. So now you’re never in a scenario where a team aren’t coming after you.

“Some teams in the relegation zone would rest players when they came up against a side they didn’t think they would beat because the next game was against a relegation rival. That doesn’t happen anymore because there’s no need to.

“So I think all these competitive results are going to happen more and more often. You’ll see an increasing amount of them.”

Next up for Baxter’s charges is a clash with Saracens on New Year’s Eve, a day before new law directives designed to speed up the game will come into effect.

Included in the tweaks is the enforcement of a shot clock for goal-kicking, reduced use of the TMO and free-kicks awarded for time-wasting during a set-piece.

Baxter not a fan of law changes

The Exeter director of rugby though is clearly not a supporter of the alterations and thinks that rugby union’s continual tinkering of its rules is “madness”.

“We’re making it impossible to attract supporters because they don’t know what game they’re going to watch,” Baxter stressed.

“We’ve got to decide on something and settle on it for longer periods than we do. And we need to spend longer considering any law changes.

“A lot of times we’re having to change law variations back because six months later they realise we should never have done them. Or they try and tinker with something else.

“A lot more thought and time needs to go into the changes. It’s almost become part of rugby now that things have to change during the season. It just seems madness to me, and we’ve got to get out of it.”

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