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'Players aren't stupid... they're the most educated group we have ever had in the history of rugby'

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

Rob Baxter has called on players unhappy with the direction in which rugby is now being policed to take a stand and make their voices heard amid the recent clampdown of high tackles, a situation that has resulted in Exeter having two players suspended at the business end of their Gallagher Premiership title defence.


The Exeter coach was left bemused by the inconsistent use and non-use of mitigation in the Premiership refereeing decisions surrounding last weekend’s yellow and red carding of Dave Ewers and Sam Skinner, while he was also unhappy about the subsequent citing of Ewers where he felt the emphasis was on Exeter having to try and prove the citing officer was wrong to cite rather than his player being innocent until proven guilty.

Baxter hinted that a number of players across the game in England have already made soundings that they are generally unhappy with some of the disciplinary trends that are emerging and that they want a say in how the sport is run as it is their careers that are at stake every weekend.

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Jamie Roberts and Simon Zebo star on the latest RugbyPass Offload
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Jamie Roberts and Simon Zebo star on the latest RugbyPass Offload

It was only a few weeks ago that Exeter hooker Jack Yeandle lamented to RugbyPass how he felt like a criminal during the proceedings that followed the first card of his 200-plus game career and speaking ahead of this weekend’s Premiership semi-final against Sale, Baxter said: “There are a number of players playing now who feel the rules and law changes and disciplinary procedures are not being directed for them – and people need to understand players aren’t stupid.

“They are aware there is huge pressure on governing bodies based around the so-called (concussion) legal procedures against them. People are aware these are potentially ongoing and I haven’t got a problem with that. If people want to do that, that is fine.

“But there also has to be two sides to that in that there are players playing now who need to have some input into the laws, the rules and the regulations and if the players who are playing now stand up and say they want these law changes because they believe it protects them, protects their careers and their futures, great. They need to come out and say that. Or if they actually believe that the game is changing to a game that they don’t like and they don’t want it to be, they also need to come out and say that and their opinion needs to be heard. There are always two sides to these things and it’s only right that both sides are heard.”


Asked what he had heard in the background about players voicing their disapproval of the clampdown, Baxter added: “Some players have already started that process of making comments on it and their comments should be given more credibility. These are the guys who are living and having their career here but they are also guys who are all made aware of the consequences of head injury and concussion.

“These guys go through a concussion education module every year, it’s not something that is laughed off and joked off. These are the guys that go through the HIA protocol stuff so there is a huge awareness, they are not ignorant. I think people just turn around and go well, these players are just ignorant of what the repercussions of playing the game might be. They are 100 per cent not.

“They are the most educated group of players we have ever had in the history of rugby union and if some of them still turn around and say I’m not sure I like the way the game is going, they are not doing that from a position of ignorance. No one can claim that. So I do think the way some of them are thinking, it should be part of the process of where the game goes.”




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