Rob Baxter gives thumbs up to summer rugby

Date published: March 31 2020

Exeter Chiefs director of rugby Rob Baxter insists there is no reason why the remainder of this season’s Premiership games could not run into the summer months.

Speaking on Sunday’s Rugby Today programme on BT Sport, Baxter gave his take on the current coronavirus outbreak and the effect it is having on the day-to-day lives of everyone.

With no rugby in the top flight since March 16 and the Rugby Football Union stating that nothing will be resumed until April 14, the idea of playing fixtures during the summer period is very realistic.

The Premiership’s chief executive, Darren Childs, said recently in a statement that playing potentially two games a week is “inevitable” if they want to get the current season completed.

Currently the Chiefs sit top of the pile in the Premiership, five points clear of next-best Sale Sharks, with nine rounds of the regular season still to play.

“The reality is that we are more than capable of doing it, for all kinds of reasons,” said Baxter. “None of us are stupid – Premiership clubs need money. We have been more than fortunate to turn a profit in the last few years, but clubs need people coming through the gates and they need games to happen – to pay wages, to pay costs.

“It will be different. The weather will be nicer, the pitches will be firmer. The big lads will be sweating a bit. All of our players will complain every time we have to wear our black kit.

“All the kinds of little complaints that happen will happen. A few of the ginger lads will be running around with sunscreen on. But I don’t see how we can’t make it work – if we all work together and we have an enthusiasm for it, we can make it work.”

Baxter added that the prospect of club rugby throughout the summer months could provide a much-needed boost to the country after the Covid-19 crisis, which has claimed more than 1,400 lives in the United Kingdom.

“Everyone in the UK knows that when we come through to the end of this, we can enjoy ourselves again,” he said. “And from my perspective – and I think about this a lot – there will be fans who have already had some kind of tragedy in their lives because of this illness, or ones that are still to come.

“And at some stage we will be able to come back and put smiles on people’s faces, give them some escapism and some emotional release. That is what sport is about.

“We know what the atmosphere is like at Sandy Park – some people are going to need this to start getting themselves back on a normal footing. And playing in the summer can help with that, as well as help clubs financially, if we can get people back into supporting rugby.”

As for the potential safety issue of playing on firm, sun-baked pitches, as opposed to the more forgiving surfaces usually encountered throughout the regular season – as well as the rapid turnaround after the all-clear is given to resume competitive sport – Baxter is not predicting a problem.

“The pitches will be good,” he added. “It is not like the guys are going to be running around on concrete fields, the health and health and safety aspect of it is relatively minor. As long as we can get that preparation time in and look after the guys, possibly rotate if we are playing midweek games. But these can only happen when the country is in recovery. So, the sooner we can start getting games on, the better for everybody.”