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Baxter fears England will become next season's sick man of Europe

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

Exeter boss Rob Baxter has taken issue with next season’s Champions Cup, claiming its winter schedule – not the revised format which will see the 24 teams split into two groups and play four games each – will cause headaches for England’s elite players.

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The restarted 2019/20 Premiership season is due to culminate in an October 24 final and this will be followed by England playing five Test matches over six weekends. 

All fine in theory but the complication is that the final Test game on the weekend of December 5 will be immediately followed on consecutive weekends by the two opening rounds of the 2020/21 Champions Cup, the Christmas Premiership programme and then back into Europe.

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This relentless line-up of games will leave the likes of Baxter will little room to manoeuvre to find designated rest periods for Exeter Test level players such as Henry Slade and Jack Nowell (pictured above), and the coach hinted that the importance of the Premiership could see Test players excused from the European games, downgrading the importance of that tournament.

Wrapping his head around the busy months ahead, Baxter said: “It’s going to be very interesting next season. Talking about it here and now I don’t think the format is the biggest issue. This isn’t a slight on anybody but the way it drops in there immediately post-international blocks is tough.

“It’s tough to see it as an absolute front-line competition for English Premiership clubs as you’re going to get your players back from the block of internationals and if they are going to play the next weekend it’s your first European game. Somewhere between coming back from the autumn – or the early-winter – internationals you have got to fit two or three rest weekends in for the EPS (elite player squad) players. Four of the fixtures are European and three are Premiership (after the Eight Nations competition).

“The whole make-up of the season and how you fight your way through, it is going to be an interesting concept. The make-up of the competition is fine – I have no problems with it for one season – but it’s going to be how you incorporate your players into a team that’s capable of winning big matches.”

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Premiership leaders Exeter have five more regular-season games left before October’s play-offs while they also host league rivals Northampton on September 20 in the Champions Cup quarter-finals before Baxter and co can even contemplate the 2020/21 campaigns in England and Europe.  

“We will get this season out the way and will crack on from there. The reality is the guys have got a lot of things to happen, to be agreed, signed off before we get into next season’s game minutes, match-appearances and that sort of stuff. We’re going into a year that has been massively decided by a Covid crisis – it’s a one-off year and if it’s a one-off year the regulations have to align with that. Hopefully, everyone will be sensible on rest periods.

“They will hand it over, as they have done for this nine-game block, to the directors of rugby to work out the best way to manage our players. Ultimately if any of us want to work towards winning seasons we have to manage players and get them in good condition. If we start with that we will be fine.”

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Shaylen 2 hours ago
Jack Willis' Champions Cup masterclass proves English eligibility rules need a rethink

If France, Wales, England, Scotland and Ireland got together and all changed their eligibility laws in the same way SA has it would be absolutely bonkers. All players from all nations involved in Europe would be fair game as would their coaches. The investment in rugby would be supercharged as teams would rush to create dream teams. Transfer markets would be super charged, salary caps may change, private investment would grow as rich backers first buy clubs and then put money into their clubs in an effort to land the best players. The richest clubs and franchises would benefit most but money and players would move across borders at a steady flow. Suddenly countries like Wales and Scotland would have a much larger pool of players to select from who would be developed and improved in systems belonging to their rivals within superstar squads while their clubs receive large sums in the transfer market. The Six Nations would experience a big boost as the best players become available all the time. The Champions cup would become even more fiercely contested as the dream teams clash. Fan engagement would grow as fans would follow their favourite players creating interest in the game across the continent. Transfer markets and windows would become interesting events in themselves, speculation would drive it and rumours of big transfers and interest in players would spread. All of this is speculation and much of it would not eventuate straight away but just like in football the spread of players and talent would create these conditions over time. The transfer markets in European football is proof of this. Football had the same club vs country debate eons ago and favoured an open system. This has made it the largest game in the world with global interest and big money. Rugby needs to embrace this approach in the long run as well

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Jon 8 hours ago
Waratahs 'counter-culture' limits Wallaby options for Joe Schmidt

This is a bit dramatic for me, I think the Rebels and Force cultures would be very strong, and if a player is chosen from either, you can be confident they are in a good head space and ready. Whether they quite have the technical or tactical foundations of the other two states is where one would way their risk of selection. I see no need for Schmidt to worry about that risk in this squad. The main reason I could see a predominance of players from Brumbies and Reds, is simple cohesion. What might the coaching group make of what’s lacking in the Tahs, and to a lesser extent Rebels and Force’s, franchise? Certainly sides (players) that are running irish plays like we saw from that lovely McDermott long ball with have a head start. I hope the players can continue it at International level. Really liked what I saw of Wright (don’t know player focus and just hadn’t seen a lot of him anyway) in that game, can see him being a glue in a Wallaby side too. A with the similar worry of selecting players like Ryan, I think it unfounded to worry so much about forward balance at the moment. Including both Wright and Skelton in the same lineout is not going to lose you games gainst Wales. Nor will any unknown weakenss Wales might find in Ryan be exploited to any great extent. It is the perfect time to introduce such a young player. What other shortcuts might Schmidt want to make now, just a year out from hosting BIL? When Gamble came on the scene I thought he had a Pocock ability to break game apart along with performing the role of a openside well. I would be very keen to drop Leota/Hooper for Gamble, and in your squad make up, include Uru as a lock. Did you forget to remove Vunivalu from your team? Would you have Meafou in your squad if you could?

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