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'It's not as if Stuart is a bad guy...' Exeter explain axing Hogg, confirm Cuthbert is leaving

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Harry Trump/Getty Images)

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Rob Baxter used his post-match television interview on BT Sport on Saturday evening to explain his headline-generating decision to drop Scotland captain and 2021 Lions pick Stuart Hogg to the Exeter bench for their Gallagher Premiership semi-final win over Sale. The Chiefs defeated the Sharks 40-30 at Sandy Park to reach their sixth successive English top-flight final and they did so on the back of restoring fit-again England winger Jack Nowell to their side at full-back in place of Hogg who had been chosen at No15 for the previous week’s narrow 20-19 round 22 win over Sale.


Exeter trailed 19-3 in that game before a red card for Sam Skinner ignited the comeback that prevented Sale from securing the bonus-point win that would have resulted in the semi-final taking place at AJ Bell Stadium in Manchester rather than the teams meeting again at Sandy Park.   

Sale were three tries to the good by the time Skinner was red-carded and with that defensive weakness foremost in his mind, Baxter took remedial action with his Exeter team for this weekend’s rematch by dropping Hogg to the bench just five weeks before he is expected to be the starting full-back when the Lions meet the Springboks in the first Test in Cape Town.    

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Baxter’s decision was vindicated by Nowell’s dependability under a barrage of Sale kicks while he also scored two tries in the victory which sets Exeter up for a final next Saturday at Twickenham against Harlequins. “The reality is it’s a difficult one,” reflected Baxter about picking Nowell ahead of Hogg in his Exeter XV.

“It’s not as if Stuart has let anybody down or it’s not he is a bad guy. It’s never like that but I just felt we had to pick guys who contributed the most last week to what was a fantastic turnaround for us across the 80 minutes.

“Then getting Jack back fully fit, I wanted to get him involved and I thought it was 100 per cent the right thing to get him involved watching him in training. Somebody had to pay the price in that team and unfortunately for Stuart, it was him because I felt he contributed the least last week. His response was exactly what I wanted it to be. I phoned him and said we are going to put you on the bench this week. I’d like to know what your response is going to be and he was you are going to get a reaction Rob and I am going to prove that you are wrong leaving me out which is exactly how you want it to be.”


TV pundit Ben Kay lauded Baxter for getting the big selection call correct. “That is what great clubs are based on, being picked on your right to be there, not because of your name and reputation. It was really difficult for Jack Nowell to come in in some regards because it was a headline selection not picking Stuart Hogg.

“But I thought he was superb under the high ball, particularly early on he was absolutely perfect. And then we know what a threat he is, powerful low to the ground and he has just got an ability to find the line. He will always be in and around try-scoring opportunities and he came up with a couple of good ones today.”

Fit-again winger Alex Cuthbert was also among the try-scorers before making way for Hogg on 68 minutes and Baxter confirmed post-game that he will leave the club at the end of this season. “He is a very good player. When he is fit we get him back on the field because that is how well he has played. For me, the biggest quality of a guy like Alex is he is having to leave the club. 

“I sat down with Alex and said I think your time here has probably come to an end. It’s just you’re not available for too many games to be able to move forward in the salary cap and the situations that are there around it. I said I am very sorry for that but it is just a decision I am having to come to based on more than your playing ability.


“It’s based on everything and the biggest measure of the guy is he knows we have sat down and released him and look at how he is performing for us in one of the biggest games of the season. The easiest thing for him to do now would be to tuck himself up and just say I am moving on. But look at him, he is throwing himself into it, he is fighting for the lads on the field, he has shown what a quality person he is.”    


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