Baxter fears England will become next season's sick man of Europe
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.
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.
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.
EPCR Chairman Simon Halliday and Director General Vincent Gaillard chat through the key points ?? pic.twitter.com/TI7X7N5uOM
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“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.”
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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