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The new rules opinions that have 'baffled' Exeter boss Rob Baxter

By Liam Heagney

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Multi-trophy winner Rob Baxter has spoken about his bewilderment over some of the opinions voiced after his Exeter team’s losing start to the new Gallagher Premiership season. The Chiefs are currently sitting in twelfth in the 13-team league following defeats at Leicester and at home to Northampton. There is a feeling that with referees being more stringent on latchers and with five-metre scrums when attackers get held up now being replaced by goal-line drop-outs, Exeter have come unstuck in the red zone.

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Even Northampton boss Chris Boyd hinted as much when assessing his team’s 26-24 win at Sandy Park last weekend. That is a perspective that Baxter has now dismissed, insisting his Exeter team never double-latched in previous years and that no firm judgment can be made regarding their current form given it is so early in the new league season. 

They also still have numerous players to come back into their fold, including Stuart Hogg for this weekend’s trip to Sale with their other Lions trio, Luke Cowan-Dickie, Jonny Hill and Sam Simmonds, all set to be available for the following round four fixture at home to Worcester. 

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Ollie Phillips guests on the latest RugbyPass Offload
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Ollie Phillips guests on the latest RugbyPass Offload

The suggestion that the new rules have somehow caught Exeter out was something that fired up Baxter at his weekly media conference, the long-serving director of rugby giving a lengthy response to the query. “We are always tweaking and developing our game… we haven’t stayed around the top-end of the Premiership for the last six, seven years and won Europe and won a couple of Premierships just playing exactly the same game for that seven years. 

“A lot of people like to say we have (stayed the same) but we haven’t. There are changes there that have kept us a little bit ahead of the game. A perfect example, six years ago the five-metre tap wasn’t in anybody’s game. Well, we brought that in a couple of seasons ago and now everybody is doing it. We changed things and added things as we have gone along and we did the same at the start of the season.

“The big problem I have got is we haven’t played to our potential with the players we have got on the field yet, we could play a bit better, and we actually haven’t got a full group yet to select from. So there are some things we are doing, but I can’t tell you if they work or not so I don’t know whether it is the right time to change them. I genuinely can’t sit here and go, ‘Well, I know that doesn’t work’ because we could be doing the things we are doing a bit better, and it might not take much change in personnel to make things a lot better. Until that happens I would be very careful that I don’t instigate a raft of changes that make us a far worse team than we are or could be. There is a balance to how we do things.

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“One thing I would say, and I know there has been a bit of focus because a couple of people have said to me, ‘It’s the new law changes‘, we haven’t been penalised once five metres from the opposition try line. We have lost the ball a couple of times and we have been turned over, we have been held up over the line but we haven’t been penalised. We haven’t been refereed out of the game in any scenario so I’m kind of baffled by people just dropping in an opinion on something that hasn’t affected us. We don’t double latch, we never have done. I don’t why people think we double latch. We have never done, so we were never doing anything illegal. 

“What happened when went into our pick-and-go and our five-metre attack game, teams started to copy that and quite rightly so because it had some success and some teams started to develop a double latch process. Well, that’s fine. Those teams have had to change. We actually haven’t had to change our process there five metres out because we weren’t doing it anyway.

“This is where sometimes you have not just got to have a base analysis of stuff, you have to have a bit of detail. It’s not as simple as going something has changed this season because it hasn’t. What has changed is we’re not playing at the level we are capable of playing or we will certainly play in the future from what I am expecting.”

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The new rules opinions that have 'baffled' Exeter boss Rob Baxter

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