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'This year it hasn't gone so well and there is massive scrutiny': Rob Baxter on speculation he will replace Eddie Jones as England coach

By Liam Heagney

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Rob Baxter has reacted to the huge speculation that he is the next England coach in waiting following the critical fallout in recent days suggesting that Eddie Jones’ time in the job is finished following a wretched Guinness Six Nations campaign that ended with a fifth-place finish.

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England were blown away by Ireland last Saturday in Dublin in the final match of their 2021 campaign, leaving them with just two wins from five outings this year.

Jones only signed a contract extension on April 1 last year taking him through to the 2023 World Cup in France, but there is now huge pressure on the RFU to review what has gone wrong in recent months and to consider whether Jones is still the right man to coach an England team that won the 2020 Six Nations and Autumn Nations Cup titles.

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Having guided Exeter to Gallagher Premiership and Heineken Champions Cup titles just last October, Baxter has been viewed for quite some time as the favourite from within the English game to take over from Jones if a vacancy arose.

That speculation has now been reignited by England’s recent poor form and rather than boot for touch with a “no comment” reaction,  Baxter willingly embraced questions on Tuesday at his weekly club media conference about the national team and the possibility that he might coach them at some stage.

Asked about the criticism that Jones has endured since Saturday’s England trouncing in Ireland, Baxter said: “It goes with the territory of being an international rugby coach. And that is probably the biggest problem with the game, well with the position of being England head coach or the international coaches, most things get blown up out of all proportion.

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“In other jobs, if you get a one-off win in a World Cup and you have the success over the last five, six-year period of the actual period of the tournaments that England have won, there probably wouldn’t be that big a scrutiny.

“But this year it hasn’t gone so well and there is massive scrutiny. It’s kind of how it goes. Is it fair? Of course it’s not, not really. But it’s kind of what sport is now and probably more magnified in the current climate where you don’t have anything else.

“There’s not really emotional going on in rugby at the moment other than watching the games and being critics from our TVs. You don’t get any feeling of what the game really feels like from the crowd, what supporters are feeling, what emotional involvement seems to be building during a process. It’s a lot harder to deal with and a lot harder to judge than people appreciate.”

Baxter reckoned there should be no snap verdicts about Jones and his management of England in 2021, that a time for pause must be taken given how the pandemic might have affected their usual preparations.

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“If I’m perfectly honest I don’t mind holding my hands up and saying I’m not the right person to talk to,” continued Baxter. “I have not been in an England camp, I have not watched Eddie coach, I have not been part of that preparation phase that you would need to be part of to make those kinds of decisions because that is what you have to do.

“If you are going to make calls on this big a deal you have to have a degree of knowledge. My knowledge of what is happening in the England camp is very limited. My knowledge of it is no greater than yours really, it’s just watching the games, watching the performances and seeing where things go and that’s not always the only picture they have to be aware of.

“There can always be other things going on. There might have been things going on through the camp which can mitigate the disappointment that has happened there.

“If England’s standard of preparation is very based upon the social interactions amongst the team and amongst the players and that is a huge part of their focus and their build and how they create what they want and then you can’t do that in the current climate because of the Covid restrictions, that is why you would need an in-depth knowledge of it, an in-depth feeling of what the camp has been like for three or four years because this is a unique scenario.

“I’m not saying that everyone is not dealing with them because every camp is dealing with them the same but if your camp does rely on the things that are now not possible then it’s a totally different scenario to you compared to what it may be. Things like that, they all have to be taken into account certainly.”

Baxter is contracted at Exeter through to 2023, the current length of deal Jones has with England, and he sounded as if he was in no particular rush to step up onto the international scene given the vibrant progress that is continuing to happen at the Chiefs.

“That is exactly my view – I’m under contract, I’m happy here and that is my biggest consideration. If you were at the club here now and I just walked up to the media room, I’m looking down at one end of the ground and I’m seeing a pretty impressive hotel being built that is going to be finished before Christmas.

“Across the ground now we are moving one of our terraces because they have started working on building a new grandstand with 2,000 premium seats to rival the grandstand this side.

“We are going to be able to have a 15,000 capacity before Christmas with some fantastic facilities available, both overnight in the hotel, in seating, in the hospitality here at the club. It’s an exciting time to be part of Exeter, it’s an exciting time to be part of the drive to make this club something very special.

“I have played my part in that so far and there is a lot of attractive reasons to carry on playing my part in that. That would very much be my take on it at this stage.”

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'This year it hasn't gone so well and there is massive scrutiny': Rob Baxter on speculation he will replace Eddie Jones as England coach

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