Exeter boss Rob Baxter is standing by his claim that the Premiership should consider in the long run abandoning the weekly testing of squads despite the revelation that 27 Sale players and staff have tested positive this past week, plunging the business end to the English season into chaos.

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Baxter suggested in the build-up to the Chiefs’ round 21 league match at home to London Irish that there were strong reasons for the testing programme that began during the summer to be scaled back.

At that time in the 15 rounds of Premiership-monitored testing between early July and September 22, there were only 66 positives among players and staff (43 players) from a whopping total of 14,560 tests, a tiny 0.45 per cent.

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Baxter’s call came days before last Friday’s revelation that there was a major outbreak at Sale with 16 players and three staff testing positive for Covid. 

That resulted in the postponement of their Sunday match with Worcester and it was after a further eight positive tests were reported on Wednesday morning, six players and two staff, that it was eventually confirmed Sale vs Worcester was cancelled and that Bath had qualified for this Saturday’s semi-finals and would face Exeter at Sandy Park. 

The dramatic revelations surrounding Sale left Baxter’s original ‘abandon testing’ call look foolish, but he has still made a case for this to happen despite the 27 positive tests emerging at the Sharks. “It would be difficult for me to push the same line, but this is where we need to sit back and look at facts and figures,” he said on Wednesday.

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“I’m not protecting what I said but I said it at a time based on three or four weeks, an ongoing conversation between club medical Covid leads across the Premiership and PRL about the validity of carrying on testing when we were picking up so few cases and while we were picking them up there was also very little transmission. 

“When you’re testing once a week you never really know what stage that player has been in your environment and been viral. That is the truth, it’s impossible to tell. 

“And yet those one or two cases that clubs were picking up weren’t expanding once that player went into isolation or who we picked up through track and trace around training video went into isolation with them. You weren’t seeing it expanded. 

“Now it could well be that outside of Sale that continues to be the case that one or two cases are never expanding beyond that. Which way do you go? It’s almost which proves what because we don’t know what happened beyond this. 

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“It would be absolutely foolish of me to sit here and say here and now we should still look to phase out testing, but I would think if you suddenly saw a return to the levels we had pre-Sale then the argument that was going on about three, four weeks previous certainly comes into play.

“There is a reality that at £30,000-odd a month per club at clubs with zero income, how long do you want that thing to continue because there will become a financial reality that it will be impossible to do?

“At some stage, everyone needs to get their heads around this. We can keep talking about it and not dealing with the actual issue which is money is just going to run out. What are we going to do then?”

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