Exeter Chiefs Director of Rugby Rob Baxter says facing Jersey Reds in the Premiership Rugby Cup this weekend will be his side's ‘toughest challenge so far’ this season.
On Saturday, last year's Championship winners Jersey welcome the two-time Premiership champions to the Stade Santander International off the back of beating top-flight side Bath 34-10 last week.
Their win at The Rec was yet another result to add to Jersey's growing collection of milestones after the club clinched the second-tier title for the first time in their history last term.
However despite their success, Harvey Biljon's side were not awarded promotion to the top-flight as they were deemed to not meet the Premiership’s minimum standards criteria due to the size of their stadium.
But having already beaten Bath in the Premiership Rugby Cup this season, the Reds have once again shown their ability to punch above their weight and Exeter boss Baxter was full of admiration for how Jersey have gone about their business.
"Jersey obviously had a very good result against a changed up Bath team and topped the Championship last year," Baxter said. "Everything on paper says this will be our toughest challenge so far and we’re away from home for the first time so this is the next step for us in our team development."
Exeter, themselves, of course know the value of promotion to the Premiership. Since climbing the English club ladder and reaching the top-flight in 2010, the Chiefs have won two Premiership titles and a European Champions Cup trophy.
However, it feels as though these types of stories are becoming less and less common - due to the criteria which needs to be met in order to gain promotion to the Premiership - and Baxter feels there needs to be a workable solution.
On Jersey's win over Bath, he added: "I think it’s fantastic, isn’t it? I mean, that’s what you want. You want clubs who are ambitious, build a team and succeed across the tournament."
Baxter continued: "You know, I think it’s however you want to dress it up, but I think it's [promotion and relegation] has always been incorrect.
"I’ve never agreed with and I still don’t. I think the pathway into the Premiership needs to be a little bit smoother or certainly a little bit different.
“I’m not saying I know the natural fluid way of doing it, but I still think there’s a better way of keeping a level of promotion and relegation that feels more sport-friendly than is currently the situation.”
Jersey Reds are targeting a league and cup double this weekend and head coach Rob Webber chatted to TRU.— Talking Rugby Union (@TalkRugbyUnion) May 12, 2023
???? "Bloody hard work" helped Reds to title
???? More recognition for the Championship is a must
???? 'Round Five' vs Ealing
???? Cheering on Sale Sharkshttps://t.co/bDffS7lLmQ pic.twitter.com/yyzCdMHXgc
It was Exeter’s promotion in 2010 that kickstarted their glory years and by taking a Premiership scalp already, Jersey have shown that they should be given the chance to try and replicate the Chiefs' impressive rise to the top of the sport.
Their encounter this weekend is set to be an exciting affair, with the Chiefs looking to take another step forward in their solid start to the season, which includes putting 75 points past a young Bristol Bears side and defeating Cornish Pirates 38-13 in the Premiership Rugby Cup.
"I think the most important thing is that we’re really enjoying it," Baxter added. "I think we’ve put a lot of emphasis this season on enjoying what we do, whether that's in the Premiership Cup or the Premiership or the European Cup.
"Overall, we’ve talked a lot about improving day by day, week by week, and game by game. That’s still very important to me. That’s really the only emphasis we are pushing pre-game is to make sure that whatever happens during the game, we’re a better team afterwards. We can’t really do much more than that."
Widely regarded as the most competitive rugby union league in the world...it can only be the Gallagher Premiership.
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