Rob Baxter is hopeful that Exeter will “weather the storm” as rugby union continues without crowds against an alarming financial back-drop. The Rugby Football Union is forecasting losses totalling £106million as a result of measures designed to limit a second wave of coronavirus infections that will prevent Twickenham from hosting fans for up to six months.

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And Premiership Rugby has asked for a “rescue package” after warning of “irreparable damage to our clubs” by an absence of crowds for the the foreseeable future. Exeter could reach the Heineken Champions Cup and Gallagher Premiership finals next month, with both showpiece occasions set to go ahead behind closed doors, which will be the case for Saturday’s Sandy Park semi-final against Toulouse.

“You always imagine quarter-finals and semi-finals of Europe being these huge occasions based on the build-up to the game, everything, flame-throwers around the pitch, music going on, the crowd going mad,” Exeter rugby director Baxter said. “They are amazing days, and it is a shame, but at the same time it doesn’t dilute what has to happen on the pitch.

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Can clubs in England survive another six months without fans at matches?

“I am a director and I sit on the (Exeter) board, so I see the financial predictions, the budgets, the expectations of what we need crowd-wise, what we need to be taking over the bar, what we need the conference centre to do. And those things for obvious reasons are under pressure when people are either in semi-lockdowns or conference centres and sporting venues aren’t allowed to open.

“For obvious reasons, there is pressure on us financially. We think we will be fine, bigger picture, longer term. We think we are a very stable business, we think we have got things in the pipeline that will help. So, as long as we don’t seem to be in a lockdown for eternity, which is kind of what it’s been like at the moment, if there is something sensible moving forward over the coming months, then we think we will weather the storm.

“There is a reality that this cannot go on if we genuinely as a country want sport and sporting venues to be able to continue and provide what they do for their communities. Outside of professional sport, a lot of sports clubs that just provide community service are just going to disappear. You can’t run businesses on zero finance.

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“Let’s hope there is a genuine concern taken by the Government in how they aim to help us and how they also aim to get crowds back in as soon as they possibly can.”

Baxter underlined how Exeter’s relationship with local clubs has been an essential part of their growth from a Championship outfit ten years ago to being crowned Premiership champions in 2017 and now standing one win away from a European final.

“We take a great deal of pride in our relationship with local clubs, how we foster them and 100 per cent do not want to think of local clubs suffering,” he added. “There are way more Exeter academy players playing for local clubs than there are playing for Exeter. That is how the numbers game works.

“We have a great relationship with local clubs as to how that all happens and how players move and work. All that is fantastically-important to us. We genuinely think that we can give young players pathways. If they can’t make it through into professional ranks, then at least we can help them into work so that they are well-set for life outside of rugby, but still maintain social enjoyment of the sport.”

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