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'Team managers across the Prem on phones going, what's happening?'

By Liam Heagney

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Exeter boss Rob Baxter has outlined his bemusement over the lack of clarity currently surrounding the upcoming rounds of Champions and Challenge Cup matches involving Premiership teams travelling to France. The Chiefs have it handy this weekend in the sense that they are planning to host Glasgow at Sandy Park and there is no red tape quarantine affecting the game from going ahead on Saturday as the Warriors are a fellow UK team. 

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However, the picture is uncertain regarding English clubs who must travel to France this weekend with Bath even issuing a Wednesday lunchtime ultimatum to tournament organisers EPCR that they will boycott their fixture at La Rochelle on Saturday if they are required to travel on Thursday and quarantine 48 hours in France ahead of the match. 

The chaotic situation has left Baxter looking on bemused knowing that his team still have nothing definitely planned regarding travel and accommodation for the round four match that Exeter are scheduled to play at Montpellier on January 23.  

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Bath and Sale are due to go to France this weekend for Champions Cup action, as are Newcastle in the Challenge Cup, and the following weekend Northampton, Exeter and Newcastle are pencilled in for away games in France.    

“Of course, we all want clarity but I can’t give you an answer because we haven’t got any and that is where everyone is. You have probably got team managers across the Premiership on phones going, ‘What’s happening, what’s happening? Can we hold a plane, can we hold a hotel, what is going to happen, are we going to get some guidance?’ We keep being told every day there is a meeting about it but we have yet to hear an outcome.”

That lack of clarity has left him questioning whether Exeter will travel to France. “It would be tough, primarily because of how much it jeopardises the Premiership the following week because of all your testing, the protocols that are in place. The challenge for us next week is you don’t want to get caught in France for ten days because then you can’t play the following week. It’s a real conflict of rules and regs around what you can and can’t do. To me, the common sense approach is to limit your time in France. 

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“Surely that is good for France and what they want and it’s surely good for the English clubs and what they want as well, so I am a little surprised they haven’t been able to get to an agreement based around that more than trying to have 48 hours quarantine which seems to have exaggerated the situation.

“I don’t know how you can plan anything around that and we already have got our concerns for next week and we have still got ten days so what it must be like when you still have two (days as Newcastle have), it must be terrible.” 

Exeter were crowned Champions Cup winners in October 2020 under Baxter at the end of the first campaign affected by the virus. Fifteen months on, he described the tournament as tarnished by the series of cancellations that affected the schedule in December. 

The awarding of points to teams who didn’t play have left the Chiefs in fifth in their pool, with Sale and Clermont ahead of them after they were awarded two points each for a cancelled round two match in contrast to Exeter suffering a loss at Glasgow. 

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“It would be silly to say no because it has been diminished the minute games get cancelled and supporters don’t watch the games and you don’t see it on TV and you don’t get the players playing in the game. Any game that gets cancelled diminishes the tournament to a degree but should we get on with it and go on? 

“The one thing we are all in agreement with now is it is important to get on with it. It mightn’t be perfect but you make the best of it and get on with it where you can… We have spoken about it. The only discussion we have had about it is this (game versus Glasgow) could be our one opportunity to get points so let’s go for it and take it for what it is… and let’s be the best we can be in it.

“That is the only way we can approach it. There is no point in us approaching it and saying we might get a chance next week because we might not. There might be no points on offer, where there is any game who knows so it has got to be about this week and we’ll see what happens.”

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