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'It will rile him for a long time': Exeter revisit Dave Ewers ban

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Mike Egerton/PA Images via Getty Images)

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Rob Baxter has revealed how devastated Dave Ewers was over missing out on the business end of last season with Exeter and at losing out on a long-awaited England call which Eddie Jones has said he was set to get for the summer series. The wrecking-ball forward was banned for four matches after he contested the citing that following his yellow-carding a round 22 Gallagher Premiership match versus Sale. 

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Exeter boss Baxter was livid amid the fallout from a massively contested match in which second-rower Sam Skinner was red-carded. Both Skinner and Ewers contested the charges, which resulted in no mitigation getting applied to their suspensions.

Baxter’s disappointment, though, wasn’t focused on the length of respective bans. Instead, he was upset with the decision-making that resulted in the Exeter duo getting in trouble in the first place and how the resulting disciplinary system doesn’t show any empathy to the modern-day player.

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A Premiership player of the year nominee whose impressive form this season ensured he featured on the six-strong shortlist for an award ultimately won by Exeter colleague Sam Simmonds, Ewers had previously been involved years ago at England Saxons level but the uncapped Harare-born player hadn’t figured into the Test fold under Jones since spring training in 2016. 

That was all set to change only for his yellow card citing to intervene and leave suspended on the sidelines rather than playing in the Premiership semi-final and final for Exeter and then going on with England. Ewers made his return to the Exeter line-up for the first time this season in their win last Sunday at Sale.

Asked by RugbyPass to reflect on how Ewers performed in Manchester following on from his massive end-of-season setback, Exeter boss Baxter said: “Dave was very hurt by having to miss the semi-final and final and he was due to join the England squad. Not just the fact that he missed out but the circumstances and how he missed out will rile him for a long time, but I know for a fact that he has definitely used it in a very motivating manner. I can tell that every time I talk to him. 

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“I spoke to him straight after the final and he was very, very emotional post the final to the stage where he was very emotional, very upset by what happened. All I can say is he has said to me a couple of times he is never going to let that scenario happen again. He is going to make the most of every opportunity he gets to get us back to where he would like to see us involved in those games.

“For a first-up performance having come into the team after a long period of rehab from his thumb operation, he actually had another small op as well, I thought he was outstanding (last Sunday). He carried the ball for us, stood up, was one of our guys who was prepared to break down the brick wall that you get early in a game. He gave us a real solidity in most of what we did and a real physicality. You can see the influence he has on the team.”

Having vehemently said his piece about the disciplinary inconsistencies he felt Exeter encountered last June regarding the Ewers and Skinner cases, Baxter added that the concerns he raised helped to ensure the disciplinary framework has been discussed not only at RFU level but by World Rugby.

“I’m not going to say it was what happened with us that completely forced these changes,” he said, replying to a follow-up RugbyPass query on the legacy of his frustration four months ago. “I said at the time that there needed to be some thought put into not just the process of how the red and yellow cards were given but also the disciplinary process and to be fair to David Barnes at the RFU, we had a long catch-up about it. 

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“We also had a long catch-up with RPA about it and there are some things that are happening around there. At World Rugby level there has definitely been some debate on some things like should there still be some level of mitigation if you plead guilty? That is an ongoing debate that is happening at the moment. 

“There is also some debate around how if it is a referee’s red card you have got to prove the referee wrong but if the referee gives a yellow card and the citing commissioner says it is a red card, then you are not proving the referee wrong because he had been deemed to be wrong and you have got to prove the citing is wrong. 

“So they are talking and they are thinking about it and they are actively getting involved with the players and I do feel there seems to be a little bit more understanding of what becomes a rugby incident and the mitigations that generally happens within a rugby game. It was interesting when we went to Twickenham in pre-season the referees body showed some incidents where they felt there was mitigation, a tackle that did make contact with the head wasn’t a red card and got mitigated down to a yellow.

“If that level (of mitigation) had been put into our game at the end of last season it probably would have been two yellow cards. I do think it is an ongoing process with everybody adapting to a genuine understanding of what is a rugby incident, what is mitigation and then in the disciplinary process where can mitigation still be added, where can you still have some level of your sentence reduced even if you don’t plead guilty? That is being debated at World Rugby level. There is an ongoing process there that I’m pleased to see. 

“We have all got to be aware of the process and protect the players and their welfare. Anyone who watches rugby sees incidents where you will just go, ‘Well, that is just a complete accident’ and we will all also watch incidents where you go, ‘That is a pretty deliberate act to try and smack this guy as hard as you can’. 

“But I always felt this was the weakness of the process, that it was very stepped and staged without really allowing a referee that ability to mitigate to a rugby scenario. We are starting to see a levelling out of that which for me makes us feel all that more comfortable. I’m a big believer that a red card should look like a red card where most of us watching go, ‘Whoa, it’s a red card!’ That’s how I personally like to think they should be done and hopefully that is what we are starting to see a bit more now.”

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