Exeter boss Rob Baxter has claimed his table-topping Chiefs are not missing their rivalry this season with Saracens, the club automatically relegated to the Championship following repeated Gallagher Premiership salary cap breaches.
Saracens defeated Exeter in Premiership finals in 2016, 2018 and 2019 before they were severely punished for their off-field accountancy, paving the way for the Chiefs, who won the title in 2017, to go on and lift their second trophy with a win in the October 2020 final.
There are already four points clear at the top of the 2020/21 table following four bonus-point wins in their four matches so far. Victories such as their 33-3 demolition of Harlequins and their 40-3 hammering of last season’s semi-finalists Bath has generated concerns that Exeter could have things way too easy on the absence of Saracens.
Baxter, though, has begged to differ, explaining Saracens will not be missed as there are multiple threats elsewhere to their title defence which steps up a notch this weekend with their visit to Wasps, the team they narrowly defeated in the Twickenham final ten weeks ago.
“Missing them? I wouldn’t think so,” said Baxter when asked about Saracens, the club that are yet to play a league match since relegation as their second-tier competition won’t begin until March due to delays caused by the pandemic.
Their captain limping off at Sandy Park on Boxing Day wasn't the festive sight which Scotland fans wanted with the countdown on for playing England on February 6 https://t.co/h0SA0nkPnp
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) December 30, 2020
“We look at a lot of clubs who are developing. Wasps are developing very quickly. If you look at the top end of the table we ourselves haven’t played Bristol who are towards the top end of the table, we haven’t played Sale who as we know are always a challenge.
“We have got some clubs that we haven’t yet played. We haven’t played Newcastle yet and they are having a flying start to the season. We have got some challenges from clubs that we haven’t played yet this year.
“The challenges will be thick and fast and they will be coming. I don’t think to say Saracens not being there removes the challenges. There is an awful lot of good teams in the Premiership. They have always been a challenge to us in the past and they will continue to be a challenge as there are international players scattered all through the league and on any given day the best thing about the Premiership is that teams can genuinely beat each other and that is what makes it great.
“Hopefully once the vaccines get rolled out and we get through this next two, three-month period what will reignite the Premiership is that really emotional, energetic experiences when we supporters back in.
“Until you get through the international rest period now and the Six Nations, I’m not going to say it [the table] is going to be a little bit false, but we won’t really know where we stand until we get through the Six Nations because there is going to be some comings and goings with teams.
“Any team that has a little bit of an injury issue now in one position might be a little bit hampered so at the moment it is relatively difficult to pick out any one team. Newcastle have started fantastically well, unbeaten currently. They have had a really well organised hard working pre-season.
“Dean (Richards) has got them really comfortable and confident in what they are doing. They look like a team who are really enjoying being back in the Premiership again. That makes them always a tough team to be, and as I said we are very aware that Wasps really had a transformation towards the end of last season and they really challenged us in the final.
“There is a lot of sides there who we haven’t played yet. Bristol were a real challenge last season, beat us here at Sandy Park. Our big challenge is all around us every week and what we have got to do is focus on ourselves and make sure we keep getting better because without a doubt there are other teams getting better in the Premiership.”
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) December 29, 2020
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