Rob Baxter sympathises with Harlequins amid ‘absolute madness’ of fixture scheduling

David Skippers
Rob Baxter Exeter Chiefs Premiership 2022 - PA.jpg

Exeter Chiefs director of rugby Rob Baxter.

Exeter Chiefs director of rugby Rob Baxter sympathised with opponents Harlequins after his side sealed a 58-26 home victory to stay in the hunt for the Premiership play-offs.

Harlequins were involved in the important Premiership clash just six days after they were beaten 38-26 by Toulouse in their Champions Cup semi-final in France.

It was not an unknown scenario for Baxter and his charges as they were in a similar position when they suffered a home defeat in the Premiership against Bath six days after they suffered a heavy loss against Les Rouge et Noir in their Champions Cup quarter-final.

Understands Harlequins’ situation

And Baxter said he fully understands what Harlequins were facing as he lamented the the fixture scheduling.

“I spoke to a couple of their coaches afterwards and said no-one appreciates how hard it is to come back from Toulouse on a Sunday and play on a Saturday more than I,” he said after his side’s win at Sandy Park.

“The Premiership calendar does not help English teams in Europe. If we had got to the semi-final, we would have had to play Gloucester on the Sunday pre-Toulouse on the Saturday.

“It is just absolute madness what we do, but we suffered against Bath and we have taken advantage of it today.”

Despite trailing 21-14 late in the first half, the Chiefs launched a stunning fightback and scored 44 unanswered points – before Louis Lynagh’s late bonus-point try for the visitors – to move above Quins into fifth spot in the standings.

Young Exeter full-back Dan John started his team’s onslaught with a try with the last play of the opening half – something Baxter which felt was crucial.

“The score we got just before half-time was very important, but we did say if we wanted any benefit from the fatigue level of Harlequins having to come back from Toulouse on Sunday, it wasn’t going to count in the first half but in the second,” he added.

Immanuel Feyi-Waboso scores twice as Exeter Chiefs thump Harlequins to keep Premiership play-off dream alive

“(However) it would only happen if we went after it really hard after the break, and we did that, and I think that was a key fundamental of the game.”

Exeter are two points adrift of fourth-placed Sale, level on 50 points with Harlequins, while seventh-placed Bristol Bears are just one point behind them.

The Chiefs head to Leicester on the final day of the season, with Quins hosting Bristol.

Baxter said: “This whole week is going to be exciting, but we can’t expect our excitement and exuberance to win us the game.

“Leicester are a good side, they have got a lot of pride, and we have got to get a lot right between now and then, patch up a few injuries, and head there bang in the right frame of mind, take every opportunity we can and see if we can get to the play-offs.”

Meanwhile, Quins head coach Danny Wilson was disappointed with his team’s performance after half-time but was delighted with their potentially crucial late rally.

“You don’t become a bad team on one half of rugby, much in the same way you don’t become a championship-winning team on the back of one really good half of rugby, so we’ll have to look at the reasons why,” he said.

‘Second half not acceptable’

“In the first half I thought we put ourselves in a position to be in the game, but then the second half was really not acceptable for us. It was not the standard that we’ve been at this season.

“What was pleasing was that we scored that fourth try (through Lynagh) right at the end. In a half where we were really struggling and we’re on a bit of a collapse – to show that character to still go out and fight for that last try might be vital.

“It gives us an opportunity and a chance after a season of really hard work.”

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