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Exeter highlight major flaw in debate that Premiership rugby should become a summer sport

By Liam Heagney

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Coldwater has been poured by Exeter boss Rob Baxter on the suggestion that rugby in England should become a summer sport due to the recent high scores in the Gallagher Premiership amid better weather conditions. Statistics have shown that the average points per game in the league before March was sometimes in the low 30s but the past five rounds have delivered points averages of 51, 42, 62, 57 and 57 again as firmer pitches and warmer weather produce speedier contests, better handling and more ambition to create.

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With winter matches often having to compete with sodden turf, high winds and driving rain, producing more limited spectacles, the optics suggest rugby would make for a better spectacle in the better-weather summer months. However, Baxter has highlighted one mighty flaw in the debate – that some of Exeter’s busiest days commercially are in the depths of winter when scores are low and the weather is terrible.

Until the pandemic hit, Exeter had been the one rugby club in the Premiership to consistently turn a profit and asked by RugbyPass if he would like to see the season moved to summer or to continue over the winter months, Baxter stated that the current timing of the Premiership best suits the Chiefs’ business on and off the field. 

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Mike Brown and Maggie Alphonsi guest on the latest RugbyPass Offload
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Mike Brown and Maggie Alphonsi guest on the latest RugbyPass Offload

“The bigger picture stuff, I understand exactly what you are saying, but for us as a rugby club within the current TV deals to make a profit we rely on supporters coming in good numbers, sell-out crowds, corporate hospitality – would there be the appetite for it through the summer? 

“The actual current season as it lies would say probably not because often our least supported games are not mid-winter, games around Christmas or games when the worst weather occurs. They are actually early-season when the weather is still good and people are still taking holidays and still focusing on other sports. My answer (to change) would be yes and no. You may see a different type of rugby played for longer but would it make it a more watchable game? Not necessarily.

“It’s the summer and you might pick up an enhanced TV crowd potentially if they think the product is better, but would it be more watched live? I don’t think there is any proof that might happen at the moment. With all of these things, my view is you need to sit back and take a bigger view. As I said we tend to get our bigger crowds and some of our best bar takes etc in winter and even around Six Nations games when we have an early or late kickoff.

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“There is a Six Nations game live and the crowd is here for five, six, seven hours –  they are some of our most successful commercial days when there is nothing you should say about the weather conditions at that time that make it sensible to play. 

“Six Nations games are played in some of the worst weather of the year and yet they tend to be complete sell-out crowds with massive TV audiences. I do get what you are saying and it is an interesting concept of a season, but I don’t know if a shift to summer rugby is necessarily a positive answer as regards the bigger picture stuff.”

Those advocating that the Premiership switches to summer rugby suggest that low scoring winter matches are not attractive but Exeter boss Baxter begged to differ. “I don’t appreciate us scoring 13 points at Gloucester and we lose and I wouldn’t mind us scoring 13 points at Gloucester if we win because that is the difference,” he said.

“The difference is you can have all types of performances and enthralling games in different conditions and in different challenges. What you have to try and do is be the team that comes out on top and that is what thrills me the most.  If you’re involved with a club for a long time, some of the most memorable games I can remember both as a player and a coach have been when we played above the level of expectation for us and won or lost tight games.

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“Interestingly enough I said here before the Leinster game in the quarter-finals, our first Heineken Cup game was away at Leinster (in 2012) and there was no prouder person than me that day and we lost 9-6. We played in a way that we could have drawn or won and it was at a level above what anyone was expecting us to perform in the Heineken Cup in our first appearance. I appreciated that game as well. Rugby is a broader supporter base than people who just want to watch tries.”

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Exeter highlight major flaw in debate that Premiership rugby should become a summer sport

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