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'I have this debate with our props all the time': The tighthead mindset champions Exeter are trying hard to change

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)

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Rob Baxter has given an insight into his approach to the selection of his front row at Exeter, the 2019/20 Gallagher Premiership and Heineken Champions Cup champions. Tighthead is a standout competitive position as the Chiefs have England’s Harry Williams and Wales’ Tomas Francis at their disposal. 


With Francis, the soon-to-be 27-year-old, busy with Wales this term and featuring in nine of their eleven matches, Williams, the 29-year-old who made one appearance in the recent Six Nations, was Exeter’s main go-to at tighthead during winter and early spring. 

However, there has been no clarity in recent weeks as to who Baxter’s number one choice is as the pair have alternated the No3 jersey. Williams started the respective April 3 and 17 matches against Lyon and Wasps while France was the starting tighthead versus Leinster on April 10 and will start again in the Friday night top-table Premiership game at Bristol.     

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The rotation differs from other sectors of the Exeter XV where there are clear first-choice players but Baxter has explained to RugbyPass that his mix-it-up approach to selection is something he does on purpose as he believes prop requires a different approach compared to the other positions across his team.    

“We are pleased with how they both play,” said Baxter when asked about the current rotation of Williams and Francis, who next season will move to the Ospreys in order to continue his Test career with Wales. “There is value in starting one over the other at different times and there is value in one over the other in finishing games at times as well. 

“Prop is a little bit of an odd position in a way. I have this debate with our props all the time because the human side of it says you want to have the No1 or the No3 shirt because that shows you are the number one in your position, but actually often around front rows that is not necessarily the right thing in an odd kind of way. 


“At the end of the day, your bench front row know they are pretty much going to be on the field when the result comes in, whether that is a win or a loss. They know that they are pretty much going to get a good chunk of time in a game so they are going to have an important role. 

“I have this debate with them quite a lot actually. Props, and hookers to a degree, need to move on from thinking there are clear No1s and No2s (in the pecking order). There is often a time when it works a bit different to that and you think how a game might progress and it might be better to have one set on at the end of the game and the other starting. 

“We don’t talk about it as necessarily being a clear No1 and clear No2 between them [Williams and Francis]. There are scenarios that suit them both and I also think that we have still got enough of the season left where we are evening out their game time so we don’t end up with one of them playing not enough minutes and the other playing too many. That is also still part of the equation when you talk about those attritional positions.”




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