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'Baffling': Rob Baxter has final say on refereeing decision that sealed Exeter defeat at Sale

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by PA)

Exeter boss Rob Baxter has had his final say on the controversial refereeing decision last Friday night at Sale which condemned the defending Gallagher Premiership champions to a second successive defeat. It was the second consecutive match where the outcome was decided in the final moment by a refereeing decision.


The previous week against Northampton, Exeter were beaten when Saints players raced forward to successfully charge down the sideline conversion kick that could have clinched victory at the death for Chiefs. 

Rather than come forward and strike the ball from the tee when he made a slight adjustment after he initially set himself, Joe Simmonds was left looking on in despair as Northampton players raced from the goal-line to the 22 to kick the ball away from the tee, an intervention that was followed by the final whistle that left Exeter agonisingly beaten on a 12-13 scoreline.      

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Greig Laidlaw guests on the latest Le French Rugby show
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Greig Laidlaw guests on the latest Le French Rugby show

Baxter accepted that the referee was correct in that instance to blow for full-time as Simmonds had indeed made a movement that entitled the Northampton players to come charging forward. However, he was disappointed the rub of the green didn’t favour Exeter last week when beaten 20-25 at Sale. 

With the clock in the red, Exeter had kicked a penalty to touch just five metres out from the try line. However, they never got the opportunity to maul for the score as the ball was mishandled in the air after the throw when the officials missed illegal contact by a Sale player when the ball came in. 

The final whistle immediately followed to confirm the fourth defeat in seven Premiership games in 2021 for Exeter and Baxter has since taken matters up with referees boss Tony Spreadbury who agreed play should have continued with a penalty as Sale had infringed rather than the match ending.


“There is definitely contact and a push there and I think people are aware of it,” said Baxter at his weekly Exeter media conference. “It is what it is now. All we have done is I have had a chat with Tony Spreadbury, just asked him to have a look at it.

“These things happen. I have said before in many games where a late decision gets highlighted as being a bigger decision than other times in the game because it happened in a crucial moment. There are numerous decisions both ways that you can question so I am not over-exaggerating one moment in a game.

“It just seemed something was wrong with it and Tony said exactly the same thing. You see the reaction from so many people. Our whole bench got up at once all together and most of our players had a look at the referee and went. ‘Why have you blown the whistle to end the game?’

“It was just one of those baffling ones where it was so obvious and so early that people didn’t quite understand how it didn’t get seen. That was my only reason for an inquiry about it. It just seemed odd, just seemed an odd end. But that’s it, it’s gone now and we have to get on with things.”


Baxter was unsure if a referee has the power to review a situation after he has blown his full-time whistle. “I couldn’t tell you. I haven’t asked what the process is because the game is finished anyway.

“Whether you can look at something after the final whistle I’m not sure, probably not, which is probably why you needed a pretty quick touch judge intervention which was a surprise. It wasn’t a surprise that the ref didn’t see it. The ref was in a different position. It was a surprise there wasn’t an immediate intervention from the touch judge.”

Exeter will now hope to reverse recent results when they play Bath on Saturday. International trio Tomas Francis, Jonny Gray and Stuart Hogg are all available, Scottish duo Gray and Hogg making the starting XV and Wales’ forward Francis named in the replacements.

EXETER (vs Bath, Saturday): 15. Stuart Hogg; 14. Facundo Cordero, 13. Ian Whitten, 12. Ollie Devoto, 11. Tom O’Flaherty; 10. Joe Simmonds (capt), 9. Jack Maunder; 1. Alec Hepburn, 2. Jack Innard, 3. Harry Williams, 4. Jonny Gray, 5. Sam Skinner, 6. Dave Ewers, 7. Jacques Vermeulen, 8. Sam Simmonds. Reps: 16. Elvis Taione, 17. Ben Moon, 18. Tomas Francis, 19. Sean Lonsdale, 20. Jannes Kirsten, 21. Stu Townsend, 22. Harvey Skinner, 23. Tom Hendrickson.


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