Exeter boss Rob Baxter has admitted he is in the dark about calls from France to cancel the remainder of the 2020/21 Heineken Champions Cup tournament following the recent escalation in the spread of the pandemic. Montpellier owner Mohed Altrad wants the plug pulled on the 24-team tournament that has two rounds of pool matches due to be played this month. 

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There is also growing support among club presidents in the Top 14 to take a stand against EPCR on behalf the likes of Toulon who had a 28-0 defeat applied against them after they failed to fulfil their game at Scarlets due to concerns over the virus. 

EPCR reviewed their Covid-19 protocols on Monday, claiming they had not directly heard from any French clubs looking to pull out of their remaining Champions or Challenge Cup games. They have also now released the referee details for all their fixtures which further suggests it is full steam ahead on the weekend of January 15. 

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Goodbye 2020!

It was why news of Altrad’s insistence that the Champions Cup should be scrapped to allow teams to concentrate on their domestic tournaments took Exeter boss Baxter by surprise. Exeter are minding their own business as regards the pandemic, admitting to some positive tests this week ahead of their league game with Bristol this weekend.

They will do a second round of testing to ensure there is no lingering issue in their camp ahead of next week’s Champions Cup visit by Toulouse to Sandy Park, a match Exeter must win having forfeited the December match due to their Covid situation that particular week. 

“To be honest I hadn’t seen that,” said Baxter when asked for his reaction to the latest claims coming out of France. “I saw there was one French club (Bayonne) talking about potentially pulling out but then I also saw the statement from EPCR that said they hadn’t had any communications about clubs contacting them. At his stage that is very much how I am reading it. So there are more clubs talking about it?

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“You can’t really talk for anybody else,” he continued after he was told who had been saying what in the past day in France. “For ourselves, we feel we are dealing with the scenario pretty well. We are very keen to play, that is why we are here. 

“Do I understand why people have their concerns and their worries and their doubts about it? 100 per cent because the reason we are in the scenario we are in, that should give a concern. Everyone should be entitled to their opinion about it. 

“Do I understand an opinion that said is it difficult to complete the competition? 100 per cent I do. But these are decisions beyond what I can make. These are decisions for EPCR and the stakeholders in the game for make. For us, we have to get on. 

“We’re being cleared as a professional sport to carry on in the current situation and that is what we have to do. We have to take responsibility for our own actions and how we behave in the things that we do and work from there really. At the moment that is all we can do. 

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“There can be a lot of comment around what you want to do week by week, game by game, month by month, we are in such a climate of change at the moment and the most important thing is to focus on yourself and what you are doing. 

“Every rugby club needs to almost get itself through things a little bit because the only thing you are in control of around Covid is practices you have in place. It’s an impossible scenario to try and do it for anybody else. That is really the only comment I can make. 

“I am sorry, I don’t really have a comment on whether the games should go ahead. At the moment we feel it would be safe for Toulouse to come here and play next week because of the practices that are here and in place. At the same time if’s not for me to ell Toulouse they should feel comfortable, is it? That has got to be their decision.”

Focusing on the current situation at Exeter ahead of Saturday’s top-of-the-table clash with Bristol, Baxter added: “We have had some positive tests but that is as far as I can say on that. It has had a light impact on the availability of players but not huge and we have selected a team that looks very good. 

“We are probably one of the teams when we do have anything in the camp Covid-wise we always try and organise a second round of testing, so we will do that either tomorrow [Thursday] or Friday. That will then ensure that anything is lingering or hasn’t been picked up won’t wait until next Monday. 

“We are one of these clubs that do feel a responsibility to try and get on top of anything very quickly and certainly not risk players going onto the field against opposition if there is any doubt about where they might be. 

“We are certainly going to have another round of testing later this week just to ensure nobody has slipped through the net and no one has become viral later in the week. That way we will ensure when we take the field we will do that with 100 per cent confidence that we are not risking transmitting anything to Bristol.” 

  

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