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Exeter explain the Patrick Schickerling England eligibility gaffe

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

Rob Baxter believes that last year’s gaffe regarding the England eligibility of tighthead Patrick Schickerling can work in the 24-year-old’s favour in the long term. The Namibian-born front-rower started the 2021/22 club season on loan at Cornish Pirates in the Championship before a recall from parent club Exeter paved the way just some months later for a surprise England call-up last June.

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Eddie Jones took a shine to Schickerling during those training weeks and after playing him off the bench in the non-cap game versus the Barbarians behind Will Collier, he then named him in the 36-strong squad to tour Australia for the three-Test tour in July.

Schickerling, who first arrived in England in 2018, remained uncapped on that trip but after being selected in the late September England training squad, his name then curiously disappeared from the Jones radar ahead of the Autumn Nations Series.

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It turned out that a newspaper interview was his downfall. In it, Schickerling explained that he became England eligible under the three-year residency rule because he couldn’t go home due to the covid travel restrictions. His comments resulted in claims that the worldwide extension of the residency period from three to five years, which came into effect on January 1 last year, should apply to Schickerling.

The eligibility debate was a hot topic at the time given the banishment of Spain from the 2023 Rugby World Cup finals and, after taking a look at the Schickerling case, World Rugby made him ineligible to play for England until November 2023.

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That setback has left the young prop concentrating all his efforts on Exeter where eight of his 10 appearances in this season’s Gallagher Premiership have been off the bench due to stiff competition with Josh Iosefa-Scott and Harry Williams. Given that he had only started a half-dozen Premiership games before his England call-up, Baxter reckoned the Test-level interest in Schickerling came far too soon and that he will be a better-prepared international player in the long run because of the enforced wait he is now enduring.

“He was clearly disappointed, which he should be, but at the same time, he also knows that he is a young man and that eligibility will come around in the very near future,” said Baxter to RugbyPass.

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“And actually, it probably may suit him a bit more than being eligible straight away now, to actually get that core of genuine experience under his belt before he gets called in there again. Not everything is a negative. It can feel that way sometimes but this is maybe one of the things that helps him become a really good international player.”

EQP status for Schickerling would have assisted the Exeter salary cap (clubs are allowed to claim up to £50,000 per player, therefore reducing the wages that count towards the salary cap), and Baxter admitted in October that he had taken the Schickerling situation up with Conor O’Shea, the RFU director of performance rugby.

With Schickerling soon being deemed ineligible for England, the RFU realised it had a lucky escape as it would have faced World Rugby sanction if Jones had capped the player when he was involved. “I’ll let the RFU worry about that,” quipped Baxter about the England near-miss aspect of the Schickerling story. “He has to serve an extended period of residency. Something changed in a swap over residency rules for Pat that people either were or weren’t aware of. That is what it is.”

As it stands on the club front, Schickerling hasn’t played for Exeter since the New Year’s Eve hammering at Saracens. “The thing now is he has got to get on the pitch with us and has got to do well. Those opportunities are right in front of him; he may even feature this weekend,” continued Baxter.

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“He is there or thereabouts with us with selection but he just needs to add a little bit of consistency to his performance levels, particularly around the set-piece, to make him that bit more selectable. It’s pretty simple: Pat has to get on the field first and when he gets there he has just got to have that but more consistency.”

Asked about the rocket-like development of Schickerling last season in going from playing in the Championship to touring Australia with the England Test squad, Baxter added: “There was so little rugby during covid for some of these young guys that it was a bit scary. So getting him down to Pirates, he worked very well with Alan Paver who I rate very highly as a coach.

“Pat did a lot of good work with him, got a lot of minutes, had a lot of tough games and was really thriving. That was why we took the decision to bring him back here and extend his contract. We started to get him on the pitch and actually for Pat, if I going to be really honest, he probably had the call-up with England a little too soon.

“It probably actually blocked a bit of his development rather than helped it because it stopped that consistency in approach, consistency in coaching, consistency in working with a certain group of players. He obviously then went on tour, came back from tour, had the EPS stuff and probably hadn’t quite got that consistent level of prep and game time he was getting. That for us is the thing he has got to work really hard to get back.”

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