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How Baxter and Hogg have moved on from the Scot's Prem final axing

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

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Exeter boss Rob Baxter has insisted relations are good with Stuart Hogg, the recent Lions tourist who headed to South Africa on the back only being a replacement for the business end of the Chiefs’ Gallagher Premiership season. The Scotland skipper was confined to bench duty in the semi-final win over Sale and the following weekend’s final defeat to Harlequins, a shocking development given that he went on some weeks later to start for the Lions as their full-back in two Test matches versus the Springboks. 


Hogg was omitted by Gatland for the series-deciding third Test in Cape Town and he is now back on the training ground at Exeter and likely to feature in this Sunday’s match away to Sale with the club’s other Lions picks, England trio Sam Simmonds, Luke Cowan-Dickie and Jonny Hill, said to be in contention for the round four October 9 match at home to Worcester. 

While England elite player squad players who toured with the Lions were eligible for a nine-week break (five weeks holidays and four weeks of pre-season) plus an additional rest week before the autumn internationals, a player such as Hogg was theoretically free to play for Exeter after their mandatory five-week holiday and could have featured in round one the league.

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Baxter, though, instead took a common-sense approach with his full-back and is delighted that he is now champing at the bit for this coming weekend with talks between the pair having also put to bed the shock end to last season’s Premiership campaign that saw Hogg only chosen as an Exeter replacement. 

“He looks real motivated, looks really sharp in training this week,” said Baxter at his weekly media briefing. “I spoke to him at the start of the week and said, ‘Right Hoggy, how are you feeling, are you ready to go?’ 

“‘Yeah, ready to go. Feel really good.’ You don’t always need to keep looking back as a player or as a coach. Right here and now the biggest thing we have got to stop doing as a team and as a rugby club and as a group is looking back because whatever is behind us is behind us and it has got to be the same for the Lions guys whether they went well or badly. It’s the same for us as a club looking back on a ridiculous twelve-month period where we went from winning a double and getting straight back into another final. 


There are loads of things we can look back on but we have got to stop looking back, we have got to look forward. That is very much my opinion, my attitude with Stuart. We have had other discussions post-Lions. They were a while ago – we don’t need to have them again. 

“All that Stuart needs to know from me is we’re keen to get him on a rugby field, we’re keen for him to play well, we have got a lot of faith in his ability in him to get over whatever little blips or what everybody thought about the end of last season and get on and show what a good player he is. That is very much my focus with him over the coming weeks.”

Exeter head to Sale in the unusual position of twelfth on the 13-team table following defeats at Leicester and at home to Northampton. Add in last June’s Premiership final loss and it means the Chiefs are heading to Manchester facing down the prospect of potentially losing four league matches on the bounce for the first time since 2014/15. 

“There has been a real consistency about us (in the years since then) and that has been our strength, but we have lost two games,” he shrugged. “There is not a staggering lack of consistency. Yes, the stats may say we have lost three but there were ten other clubs from last season not even in that game, didn’t even play in that round and the round before we won a semi-final. 


“The reality of stats is one thing, where we are is completely another. We’re frustrated and disappointed we didn’t beat Northampton, the game was there to be won. We will deal with that as we have dealt with it in the past when we lost a close game. We lost to Saints here last season by one point in a way more frustrating game in a lot of ways than the one we have just lost. We have to move on. We know we have got a big challenge this weekend. Sale is not one of those places where you turn up and get a regulation win.”





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