Rob Baxter: Exeter Chiefs boss says Premiership return in mid-August is realistic

By Brent PilnickBBC Sport
Rob Baxter
Rob Baxter has been in charge at Exeter since 2009

Exeter boss Rob Baxter says a planned mid-August restart for the Premiership can happen if teams can start contact training by early July.

Teams are currently doing socially-distanced training and awaiting approval to move to the next phase.

Asked if mid-August was realistic, Baxter said: "At this stage, yes.

"If you get to stage two training by 6 July then it certainly is because we will be working on the areas that will allow us to be prepared to play."

However, Baxter has warned that any spike in Covid-19 could set back rugby union's hopes of coming back.

"Being physically prepared and those games actually happening are two different things," he told BBC Sport.

"We're all aware that we're following government guidelines almost day-by-day, week-by-week, so for me to sit here and go 'we're going to play in mid-August' is ridiculous.

"There are so many other things that have got to happen.

"People are kind of mingling now, you're seeing things happen on beaches, you're seeing things like they had in Liverpool with the celebrating [of a Premier League title].

"There is a lot of close contact happening and I would imagine if there are second spikes or changes in how we're dealing with the Covid-19 situation at the moment, things like sport will get changed quicker than anything else."

Midweek matches

Exeter are five points clear at the top of the Premiership, which was halted in early March after the coronavirus outbreak.

There are still 11 regular-season rounds to go, as well as play-off semi-finals and finals, and one of the ways mooted to clear the backlog of matches has been to play some midweek games.

Baxter says he would not mind if his players were made to play in midweek, as long as the load was manageable.

"We're not talking about it going on and on and on with midweek matches," he said.

"The proposal has been is if there was going to be any that it would get spread out so you wouldn't go Saturday-Wednesday, Saturday-Wednesday.

"We've been away in France on a Sunday in a European competition and been expected to come back and play away at Sale on a Friday night.

"Going from a Saturday to a Wednesday with all the travel having to be in this country almost feels easy compared to what we had to do that week with a must-win Champions Cup game."

He added: "We're not in a situation where I'm looking at a load of players who've played 30 games.

"They haven't played for a long time and some players will absolutely love the odd midweek game - playing on a Saturday, a couple of days to recover, a bit of a team run, very little training in between.

"Other guys will hate it and all you have to do within the squad is manage the guys who hate it differently from the guys who love it."

Gray could feature in first match

Jonny Gray in action for Glasgow
Jonny Gray will follow Scotland team-mate Stuart Hogg to Sandy Park

Exeter's big summer signing has been Glasgow and Scotland lock Jonny Gray.

His deal at Sandy Park begins on 1 July and Baxter is confident that he, and Exeter's other summer signings such as Sam Hidalgo-Clyde and Corey Baldwin, will be up to speed to feature in mid-August.

"He's one of these guys who'd describe himself as a bit of a student of the game, he loves rugby and loves to talk about it," Baxter said of the 26-year-old forward.

"He's probably spent an inordinate amount of time already seeing how we play and I've spoken to him at length about how things will work.

"When you talk about someone like Jonny Gray, you're talking about someone who drops out of a Glasgow environment into the Scotland environment, a guy who wants to drop out of the Scotland environment into a Lions environment.

"Those kind of players should be able to adapt relatively quickly into fitting into what the rest of a settled team will be."

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