Rob Baxter: "It was a very emotive response but not one that I regret"

Rob Baxter and Exeter won the Heineken Champions Cup in 2020

Exeter Chiefs Director of Rugby Rob Baxter is keen to right the wrongs of last weekend’s disastrous defeat to Bath as they prepare to face off against Montpellier in the Heineken Champions Cup.

Baxter has elected to drop some of his leading names and give a chance to those involved in Exeter’s recent Premiership Rugby Cup success, suggesting that they have less “baggage” than some of the players currently in the squads' first choice 23.

After losing 36-19 to Bath, Baxter was particularly animated post-match and hinted at potentially considering wholesale changes for this Sunday.

And that has proven to be true as he has dropped first-team regulars Josh Hodge and Dave Ewers, preferring Tom Wyatt at 15 and Jannes Kirsten at six. He has also called up Will Becconsall to start at scrum-half, with fellow nine Tom Cairns being brought onto the bench.

Baxter said: “I’m the first one to say, ‘didn’t I paint myself into a corner after that game’? It was a very emotive response but not one that I regret and I didn’t say anything that I didn’t say almost word-for-word in the changing room.

"There are a number of guys who played in the Premiership final who are involved in the 23 this weekend because I think they are free of some of the baggage that some guys are carrying around.

"There’s nobody playing for us who’s a bad guy who is doing anything deliberate or isn’t working hard. We’ve just lost a bit of focus. If anything, we’re probably overthinking things and over-analysing things. In most team scenarios, you need one guy making a decision and fourteen guys following that."

Baxter is now keen for the squad to put last weekend’s result against Bath behind them and get back to winning ways: “We went to Bath and had quite high expectations of how we were going to play and felt like we were building towards something and obviously it became a bit disappointing. I’m actually going into this game with a slightly different attitude.

"I’m looking forward to seeing what our response will be and how much we’ll grow and come together as a team. It’s certainly going to be an interesting afternoon.

"After the disappointment and frustration of the weekend, in sport, you move on very quickly because you start moving on to the next thing.

"There’s nothing that necessarily needs to drag on from the Bath performance other than some of the things we can improve on.

"We weren’t good enough, we weren’t resilient, we doubled up on errors. We went passive and a bit scared at scrum time and we failed in attack. It’s an interesting one because when you watch the game you can actually see us working hard as a team, but where our energy was directed was very poor at times. It was about getting the basics right.

"If we’re going to put our energy into something at least, let’s get into a semblance of a shape that we can do something with. That’s very much been the tone going forward.

"We got a lot of things wrong at the weekend and some of those are fairly simple fixes as long as everyone buys into them. I think we’ve clarified a few things around that picture that we need to see on a regular basis to give us our opportunities."

On Montpellier, Baxter is aware of the threat the current Top 14 champions pose and knows his side will need a much-improved performance than what they showed against Bath. He identified Springbok Cobus Reinach as a dangerman for Exeter to watch out for.

"They’re playing well. They’re moving the ball with width and with pace. Obviously Cobus Reinach, he’s a threat in all kinds of areas. Not just around the base but also getting on the end of half-breaks.

"He’s got exceptional pace. They’ve got a big pack of forwards and they’ll come at us. Some of the areas that have been a weakness for us in the last week or so have got to change. If we can change that, then things can change very quickly on the field."

Next season, Exeter's Sam Simmonds will be swapping the Chiefs to join Sunday's opponents but his focus is purely on helping his current side bounce back after last weekend's setback in the Premiership.

"It’s a huge game," said Simmonds. "It was almost meant to be [to be drawn with Montpellier] I guess.

"We haven’t had an amazing year in terms of performance and results but I think we can put a few things right this weekend not only with a win but also with a better performance.

"We weren’t happy with our performance last week so we want to make sure we put in a better performance this weekend that will give us the opportunity to win.

“I feel like this season, in some areas, we just haven’t got going as we have in the last few years. It’s not to say we haven’t had good games this season but in years before we’ve done it a lot more often. That’s just not been the case this year especially away from home.”


European Rugby Champions Cup Points Table