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Exeter tackle damning accusation about them and new drop-out rule

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by PA)

Rob Baxter has laid bare his exasperation that the new goal-line drop-out rule is a major reason why Exeter haven’t been as dominant as they were in recent campaigns. The Chiefs currently find themselves sixth on the Gallagher Premiership table, 18 points behind leaders Leicester following five defeats in a dozen matches

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They have also had their Champions Cup hopes dented by a defeat last month at Glasgow but director of rugby Baxter has insisted there is no truth whatsoever in the allegation that Exeter are suffering due to one particular law change introduced for the 2021/22 season. 

Whereas previously an attacking team that got held up over the try line without grounding the ball was given the put-in at a five-metre scrum to restart play, possession is now handed over to the defending team who are allowed to kick a drop-out from their goal line

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The insinuation around the Premiership is that the attacking threat of Exeter has been blunted because of this rule change but Baxter was adamant that wasn’t the case. 

Instead of buying into the accusation, he outlined that the Chiefs’ problem wasn’t that they were getting held up over the line and surrendering possession. The issue was that they aren’t getting close enough to the line in the first place to be in a position to score tries.

Baxter has a point. Previously, the Exeter try tally regularly used to be one of the most envious in the league but they have only scored 35 tries in their dozen league outings so far, a strike rate eclipsed by six rival clubs while another opponent has that same number of five-pointers. “I said this at a members forum the other day and it raised a laugh because a lot of people keep talking about it as us being held up over the try line and it has caused a bit of an issue for us. 

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“I actually said, ‘Well, it hasn’t caused a problem because we haven’t been getting over the line, you see what I mean?’ The goal-line drop is only an issue if you get held up over the try line – we haven’t been getting that far,” surmised Baxter, speaking ahead of Saturday’s Sandy Park rematch with Glasgow in Europe.   

“I said this at the start of the season: If teams have to kick goal-line drop-outs because we keep getting over the try line and getting held up we will probably be winning the game by about 50 points. You don’t get over the try line loads of times and not get it grounded. Our biggest problem is we haven’t been getting over the try line. 

“Yes, there are elements of things we have tweaked but if anything I would say our biggest issue is trying to stay ahead of the game or to keep progressing and keep trying to score tries in different ways.

“Actually, some teams are very single-minded in how they score now. Gloucester is a perfect example. Gloucester and Leicester have very much got the best mauls in the Premiership now. They are single-minded and know what they are doing. No one is questioning them has the goal-line drop-out changed it because they have gone to a more focused driving game. This is what I am saying to you. 

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“The goal-line drop-out itself, has it prevented Gloucester from having a successful maul? It hasn’t because they are doing it well. It wouldn’t prevent us from having a successful maul or a successful pick-and-go game if we were doing it well – we just have to do it better than we are doing it. The rule itself is not affecting us because we are having very few taken against us. We have actually hardly received any goal-line drop-outs.”

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