A recent surge in the number of Covid-19 cases across England has Exeter coach Rob Baxter on tenterhooks that someone in the Chiefs squad could contract the virus and miss out on the biggest games of the season. 

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Exeter host Bath on Saturday in the semi-finals of the Gallagher Premiership, a match that will be followed by the October 17 Champions Cup final against Racing in Bristol and then the Premiership final at Twickenham on October 24 if Chiefs qualify. 

Baxter has revealed that his club have had “less than a handful” of cases since they returned to work during the summer. However, with places like universities back in business and the instances of Covid-19 on the rise among the general public, the Exeter coach has reminded his players not to let their guard down just as the 2019/20 season is reaching its showpiece conclusion.  

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“As rugby clubs around the country we are probably in our most dangerous period – and I include us in that,” he said ahead of the league semi-final where Exeter officially only found out on Wednesday morning that they would play Bath after Sale’s race was run following the revelation that they had eight more positive tests in their camp, bringing their total to 27.  

“If you look at Exeter, we’re now a hotspot. Exeter and Devon have gone from one of the lowest areas of Covid to being in the top 20 hotspots now based purely on infections that have multiplied very quickly based around Exeter University and Exeter is a small city, so right now we are probably at our most vulnerable as we have been. 

“I imagine Bath are in a similar situation with their university in that all of a sudden where you have had very little infections or cases or anything in the hospital, we’re in a hotspot now so the danger of a player picking up an infection and failing a test just through going into a shop or literally anything is far greater now than it was at any time during the lockdown.

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“We’re telling the players and staff on a pretty much daily basis what the scenario is around new cases in the city, why they have to be diligent. Everyone assumes the challenge is not to go out for a beer – that isn’t the challenge. The players twigged that months ago. 

“The challenge is the things you would think are not that problematic, like maybe going for a cup of coffee, going for food at lunchtime or an evening or even the city centre shops. That’s the thing: it’s not about being reckless, it’s about understanding beyond that. 

“Now you also need to remember we have got players who have got wives who work, children who are at school, we can’t just put them in a bubble. It’s just an impossible scenario. It just doesn’t work like that so all we can do is ask our players to be diligent. 

“I know from the test results we have had up until now over multiple months they must be doing that because we have had less than a handful (of Covid cases), so I know they are being good. 

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“Our biggest problem is don’t let your guard down, keep working at being good and have an understanding that the last thing anybody wants is to fail a Covid test now which will automatically mean you will miss one, possible two huge games for the club. You can’t do much more than expect buy-in from players and staff and I’m very confident we are getting that that is what has to continue.”

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