'I've every confidence everyone on the pitch in the final will be Covid-free and there won't be any danger to anybody'
Double-chasing Exeter boss Rob Baxter has outlined his relief that the two best teams in England will go head-to-head in Saturday’s Gallagher Premiership final after the threat of Wasps having to forfeit was removed following the latest round of coronavirus testing.
The Coventry-based club had suffered eleven positive tests for the virus in recent testing, putting their participation in the showpiece final in doubt. It meant third-place Bristol were on stand-by to fill in if Wasps failed to pitch up healthy.
However, the issue has now been settled after Wasps were given the go-ahead following the latest round of testing to play in the final at Twickenham, a development that has pleased Baxter – even though it left Exeter waiting until three days before the final before having the identity of their opponents confirmed.
“It’s good news,” said Baxter on Wednesday. “It’s the news most people wanted, that the two semi-final winners would come through. We ourselves had our (Covid testing) all-clear this morning as well, completely negative right across the board, so that’s fantastic for us.
“With the concern over the Wasps situation we were concerned with ourselves making sure we came through it. We anticipated we would be (clear). We haven’t had any issues with testing so far so we anticipated we would be (clear) and that has been the case.
With all the drama this week who are you backing to win the #GallagherPremFinal now??
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“And it was great to have a message from Lee (Blackett, the Wasps boss) this morning that their testing had gone well. They were hoping for a positive situation with Public Health England which has happened and now we can confirm and get on with things.”
Baxter insisted Exeter head into the showpiece without any fears over the Wasps health situation. “100 per cent. I have had numerous conversations with Lee right through the process. I have got every confidence. Wasps will deem themselves very unlucky.
“They are one of the teams that picked up hardly anything at all all the way through and then it was one of those things, right at the business end of the season they have had one little outbreak. I have every confidence they are doing everything correctly and I have every confidence that this is been dealt with and everyone who will be on the pitch in the final will be Covid-free and there won’t be any danger to anybody.”
Exeter had been through the situation before, having to prepare for half of a week not knowing who they would be facing on the following Saturday. It happened in the build-up to their league semi-final versus Bath, who were not confirmed as the opposition until the Wednesday due to an issue with Sale, while it wasn’t until last Wednesday evening that Covid-hit Racing were given the go-ahead to face Exeter in the Champions Cup final that the Chiefs won last Saturday at Bristol.
“Last week the likelihood was that Wasps had contained it and would probably come through,” continued Exeter boss Baxter. “Then the Saturday test showed up what it did and we were at that stage told it was more likely we would end up playing Bristol because the chance of Wasps at that stage getting through a whole round of testing without getting any positives at all was looking rather slim.
“Where we are fortunate is we had a decent bit of time knowing it was going to be Wasps, so a fair bit of the prep for Wasps got done and the rushed prep this week has been preparing in case it was Bristol.
“The best prep has been done on Wasps but what we haven’t done on Monday and Tuesday this week is we haven’t pushed too much preparation on either Wasps or Bristol as we didn’t want to create a confusing picture. We have focused very much on ourselves, as we did in semi-final week, and now we will break down the detail on Wasps that we want to get in place.
“The regulations on how games would get played… it was all completely new territory for everybody and actually the rules that got written up have just about dealt with it. They have got us to a final. Let’s face facts, we have a final with the No1 and the No2 seeded team so they [the Premiership’s Covid regulations] have got us there by hook or by crook.
“It’s only ten-and-a-half weeks ago we started this process. We signed up to these rules and regs and said we are going to get the season done. We have all had to get on with it and we have all dealt with it well.
“It would be nice to finish it off with a decent game. Would it have been nice to have this doubt [who Exeter will play] removed earlier in the week? Of course, it would but the scenario we’re living in is there is doubt in everything. I don’t think it is the end of the world for sport to be able to deal with these little things as we go along.”
Quality insight from @SimonZebo on RugbyPass Offload this week to chat through his Heineken Champions Cup Final.
+ Six Nations Preview, Bledisloe and @DylanHartley on how Eddie Jones picked his squad ?
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