Rob Baxter has explained there is no acrimony at Exeter about the loss of tighthead Tomas Francis to Ospreys, the coach adding that the Chiefs will first assess their options from within before deciding whether they need to go to the market next summer to find a replacement.
Out of contract at the end of the 2020/21 campaign, Francis faced the dilemma of having to call time on his Test career with Wales if he opted to sign a new contract with Exeter. The 28-year-old prop currently only have 52 Test caps, eight short of the 60 required for a player to continue to play club rugby outside Wales and still be selected by Wayne Pivac.
Signed by the Chiefs in 2014 from London Scottish, a loophole in the 60-cap rule allowed Exeter to previously extend Francis’ contract but they have not been able to do this a second time and the prop will now leave for Ospreys in order to continue to be available for Wales selection.
“We have known for a little bit longer than when it was broken in the press,” said Baxter about a deal that became public on Tuesday. “Just like anything else, Tom goes with our blessing.
“We knew it was going to be a potential issue, that at some stage he was going to have to make a choice between giving up international rugby or moving back to Wales. He has made that decision. I don’t think any of us have any issues with that.
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) January 12, 2021
“He has been a big part of a number of successful seasons at Exeter and he goes with our blessing. It’s not been difficult at all. Tom is very determined and he wants to have a big final season here. It isn’t an issue for us. Someone said, how do you want players to leave? I said in positive circumstances and this is a positive circumstance with Tom. It’s a new challenge but it also allows him to carry on with his ambitions to play for Wales. We can’t say anything negative about that.
“In theory, you can only do it [extend a deal] once and we had it in the middle of two longish term contracts. You can’t really put a clause in a second time around that deals with one scenario. It is what it is.
“We got it right the first time which extended his career here but it could never have been an indefinite thing. Everyone was hoping he would pick up the number of caps required so the decision wouldn’t be forced upon him, but it is one of those things and everyone just has to get on with things.”
That getting on with it will see Baxter explore his front row roster this spring to see how his other options behind Francis and Harry Williams are developing. If someone isn’t already on the books who can fill the void Francis will leave, Exeter will consider going to the market at the end of the season.
“The depth scenario could sort itself out because we have got some good young props here,” reckoned Baxter. “Marcus Street (22 in February) is here and has played a bit of Premiership and is improving all the time. He certainly has got great potential. He was England U20s prop for a couple of years and is one of the best young English tightheads in the country. He will only improve with game time. He isn’t someone who is going to get worse.
“We have got another England U20s prop here in Alfie Petch (21 since December) who we are expecting a lot of as well as time goes on and as he matures and gets game time. And we have got Maks van Dyke here (the South African turns 29 next week after signing in November on a one-year deal from Harlequins).
“He has not yet featured. He is still kind of learning the ropes a little bit of Exeter and he will have an opportunity during the Six Nations period to get game time and we will want to have a good look at him. Everything we need could well be here.
“We have got time. We have got the rest of this season which is quite a long time to see how these guys develop and of course there is always the opportunity to recruit from outside if we feel that extra depth is needed. So we have got plenty of options.”
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) January 13, 2021
Sign up to our mailing list for a weekly digest from the wide world of rugby.Sign Up Now